“Dehumanization “solves” our wired-in empathy problem because it moves those who suffer out of our group. No tears need to be shed. They are not like us.”

On Maunakea, politicians and astronomers have labeled the kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) resistance as “other,” and so can dismiss any claims they make. Anything that happens is twisted to ensure that “they” are not like “us.” In this viewpoint, “they” are protesters — and now, “illegal campers” — who commit vandalism, trespass, cause disturbance, and are liars. They are not like those of us who follow the law. “Those Hawaiians” throw trash on the beach, they destroy the land for profit and development, unlike us, who have to clean up after them, and have taken great lengths to prepare Environmental Impact Statements to prove that we have a right to build what we build. “Native” (aka “un-civilized”) beliefs are backwards, anti-science, and shows they are uneducated. “They” need to be told, in simple language, the definition of a telescope, as well as their own history. “They” make the mountain unsafe. We are only concerned with the public safety.

They are not like us. We represent the law and science!

In contrast, any person with Native Hawaiian ancestry who comes out in favor of the TMT project is elevated to front page news as having switched allegiances from the tribe of “other” to the tribe of “us.” Held up as an example to those unconverted heathens. “Join us,” screams the implicit message, “and you will have money, education, and prestige.” Of course, if you don’t, then you are doomed to an illiterate life of poverty and abuse.

You can only be one of us if you agree with us completely.

What would happen if we chose instead to recognize the common humanity in all of us? Could we do it without requiring a membership pass wherein you publicly denounce who you are and what you believe?

It would require everyone who is supporting the TMT project to think of those who oppose the project as fellow humans. Not as obstacles to be dehumanized, or as brainwashed idiots, but as real, intelligent, caring people with valid concerns. It would not require more “listening,” no more focus groups or meetings or yet another cultural council. It requires re-watching the videos and re-reading the articles and testimony of kanaka maoli as if “they” are “us.” It requires finding the capability inside oneself to truly empathize, to connect to the tears and emotions as you would when sitting next to someone you love.

It would require everyone invested in the TMT project to experience at least some of the pain of the thousands of protectors who have stood on the mountain as well as the tens of thousands more people they represent. Not agreeing with them, not simply acknowledging the pain as existing, someplace “over there,” but feeling it as your own pain.

The pain of the protectors on Maunakea is a pain born of 300 years of loss. Loss of life from epidemics, loss of cultural and historical knowledge with each of those deaths, loss of religion through a missionary campaign of conversion and misinformation backed by guns and money, loss of sovereignty through a hostile take-over by American businessmen, loss of land through force and through laws written for the benefit of everyone except those who lived on it and worshipped on it for generations.

This is what is at stake. The ability to define cultural, environmental, and historical landmarks in way that is not based only on the number and importance of objects found by archeologists, but also by mo’olelo — the shared, living memory woven of history, stories, and chants. True respect for a religion that was not recently made up, but was hidden and only now is coming to light, and is based on an unbroken line, reaching back before Captain Cook set foot on Hawai’i Island. Actual action based on the federal law recognizing that Hawaiian Sovereignty was never relinquished.

This is not about guilt. Guilt is not a feeling, it’s a decision. It’s a judgement about your feelings and your past. This is not about judgement. This is about asking everyone to feel the sadness and anger which is all centered around Maunakea. It’s all there, in this piko, the belly button of the islands. The bones of the dead. The remains of forgotten shrines. The echoing sounds of gunfire from the nearby Pohakuloa military training grounds. The legal and political battles all fought on the premise that the land is not crown lands, but State land. And on top of all of this are the arrests of the protectors for the act of lying down with the rocks of this sacred mountain to block bulldozers and excavators from tearing up the land, land which should protected by the conservation laws of the State, but instead are made exempt in order to make money. It is at the center of all this that the kama’aina of Hawaii are told to leave, that they are not wanted, and that they are in the way of progress.

And yet, what of the pain and loss that would result if the TMT project was permanently put on hold? What of all of the time and money invested by international organizations? Of the money that would come back to the people? What of the science?

If you could truly open up your heart to the plight of the Hawaiian people, then you wouldn’t even ask those types of questions. You would know the answer. Science is not in danger. There are other telescopes on Maunakea and Haleakala (for now, at least), and other extremely large telescopes being built in other parts of the world. There are other ways to make money. And there are things more important than money. There is only one Maunakea. There is only one Hawai’i.

Ultimately, to ask the protectors of the mountain to feel your pain is like repeatedly punching someone in the face and then asking them to feel sympathy that your fist is now bleeding. And yet, I know they are capable of it. The fact is that Hawaiians and all the indigenous people of this world have a lot of experience in feeling pain. They are familiar with being asked to understand, welcome, and accept people who have a very different set of beliefs from them, and experience in learning a new language to be able to communicate with those people. They have a lot to teach us, but first we have to learn to listen with our open hearts instead of our closed minds.

The only real question left to ask is what type of relationship will we have with each other, moving forward? Us versus them? Or all of us together, side by side, breath to breath, living with each other on these islands in the middle of the wide Pacific ocean?