In the series “Downton Abbey” the viewer is lead to a scene where the preparations for a big and important meal have been finished. Cora, the current Lady Grantham, escorts the Dowager Lady Grantham to the doorway of the dining room and the two of them gaze upon a scene of Edwardian extravagance: A number of silver candelabra down the middle of the table, masses of flowers, fine china, gleaming cutlery, crisply folded linens, and crystal glasses of all sizes for all sorts of courses. Cora asks the Dowager, “What do you think?” Maggie Smith as the Dowager gives a wide and approving smile and opines: “Nothing succeeds like excess!”
And now fast-forward to Hawaii of today. In Hawaiian culture it is a common practice to give someone a lei for many reasons: Their arrival, their departure, an important event, or just because the two of you have gotten together. A lei can be made of flowers, seeds, leaves, shells and even berries. The giving of a lei is understood to be an expression of respect for the one receiving the lei and as an expression of that core cultural value of Aloha. At an important event, or upon the arrival of an important person, it is not unusual for the recipient to wind up wearing multiple leis, sometimes so many that one can barely even see the recipients eyes! The Dowager Lady Grantham would so approve! The most that I ever wore at any one time was three!
So what, really, is “excessive”? The dictionary defines it as “Going beyond the usual or what is necessary.” And that’s the crux of the problem: Defining “what is necessary”! For someone who views the various aspects of being a human being as problematic, “necessary” can be synonymous with minimal. For such an individual food is simply to keep the body going, sleep is simply what has to be done in order to function, and sex is… well, a problem. For Hawaiians, however, all that constitutes being a human being is part of the celebration of having been given life by the Divine. One does not just eat to keep going, one throws a luau! One does not simply wish someone well with a “So nice to see you”, one bestows a lei, or maybe ten! In the celebration of being a human being, Hawaiians are much like the Edwardians in their sense of occasion: Hawaiians don’t do minimalism!
Aristotle is quoted as having said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And, one might add, for the Hawaiians it is also a mindset. The excess of excellence! In other words: Too much… is just enough!