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HOOSER: Policy, politics, ethics and avocados

Walking 5 miles a day provides valuable exercise of course, but it also gives me two hours of peaceful solitude and outdoor “thinking time.”

Where am I going with this, you ask? How does this relate to policy and politics?

Hang in there please. I’m getting to it.

As I walk by the yards of neighbors, I often see trees loaded with avocado, mango, ulu, banana, papaya etc. Sometimes the fruit hangs over the public easement, and sometimes the fruit has fallen to the ground.

As a fun and frivolous exercise (I’ve obviously got too much time on my hands) I posted the below on FaceBook recently and the response has been both humorous and thought-provoking.

FB Post: Moral dilemma: If you’re walking through the neighborhood and see a beautiful ripe avocado freshly fallen from a neighbors tree but landing outside their fence, is it fair game to scoop it up and take home? #askingforafriend

A representative sampling of the comments:

Philosophers have debated this for centuries. See Plato’s “Avocado Treatise”… My take? Grab ’em, eat ’em.

Ripe and on the ground should be fine. If not, it will just go to waste. I will be surprised if anyone, even your neighbor will be angry if you pick up a freshly fallen fruit outside their property.

My dad told me an old Japanese saying: “Don’t adjust your hat under your neighbor’s tree.” I asked him what the hell that meant. He said don’t even engage in suspicious activity that in this case might look like you were putting fruit in your cap even if you were just adjusting it and not stealing fruit from your neighbor. So my dad would probably tell you not to take it because your neighbor might think you picked it from his tree and even if he didn’t say anything he would think you were a thief.

“Windfalls” on your side of the fence are yours.

Grab um before the chicken and bugs. Fair game!

You have a legal right to that avocado. But it’s still not yours. You didn’t grow it, you didn’t water that tree. The moral compass in you should be compelled to knock on that door and ask if it would be ok with the person who did nurture that tree.

My neighbor has a mango tree, I see it all the time, people coming up and just taking when maybe he didn’t get to it fast enough. Just because you can take it, it doesn’t mean you should.

Easy one. Pick it up, knock on the neighbor’s door and use the opportunity to do good, meet someone new and spread aloha.

Mine, mine and mine. Besides they didn’t see it fall, and it’s not in their yard.

Under Hawai‘i case law, the courts have erected an invisible shield going to the sky at the property line. It doesn’t matter where the roots and trunk are, anything over the property line, including fruit and branches belongs to the owner of that side of the property line. If it’s public property then it belongs to the public. I don’t see it as a moral issue, just a legal issue.

Scoop um!

Grab and go! Don’t look back. That avo just fell for you! There are now 100 comments, and counting.

While some may think it’s all very silly and we are way “over thinking” this, I personally find the discussion fascinating.

In the past, I’ve mostly walked past those avocados, a bit fearful I’m crossing some line of ethical/moral behavior. In the future I’ll look for an opportunity to connect with the neighbor, and perhaps talk story a bit.

Of course the moral of the story is that we should follow the law and trust our na‘au. Remember, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”


Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Counci. He presently writes on Hawaii Policy and Politics at
Source: The Garden Island

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