The power of hos­pi­tal­ity

The Northland Age - - Opinion -

Last week­end, my daugh­ter was shriek­ing in my ear with a mix­ture of de­light and fear as we skimmed across a lake be­hind a jet­ski.

We were at a dads and daugh­ters week­end, where we spent a lot of time on the lake mak­ing some pretty spe­cial mem­o­ries. We’re not a boat­ing fam­ily, so we could only share this ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause oth­ers chose to be gen­er­ous with what they have. It got me think­ing about the power of hos­pi­tal­ity, not just in that week­end, but as a way to re­ally trans­form our so­ci­ety.

At its best, hos­pi­tal­ity is a kind of pub­lic virtue, an at­ti­tude and a prac­tice that changes the way we treat other peo­ple. We all know how to show hos­pi­tal­ity to our friends, but it’s harder to be hos­pitable to peo­ple we don’t know and who are quite dif­fer­ent to us, or when it’s go­ing to cost us some­thing. But it’s in those times that hos­pi­tal­ity has the most power.

Luke Brether­ton, a pro­fes­sor at Duke Univer­sity, says the heart of hos­pi­tal­ity is mak­ing space for other peo­ple, in­clud­ing strangers. There have to be lim­its to our hos­pi­tal­ity—most of us couldn’t host peo­ple for din­ner ev­ery night—but he says they should pro­mote a sus­tain­able com­mit­ment to mak­ing space for oth­ers. It’s what I ex­pe­ri­enced on a marae last year as a stu­dent of te reo Ma¯ori, when the tan­gata whenua gra­ciously and pa­tiently wel­comed us into their world.

When you re­ceive this kind of hos­pi­tal­ity, it awak­ens a de­sire to treat oth­ers with the same gen­eros­ity that you were treated, and that’s why it can be trans­for­ma­tive. Of course, it won’t solve all our prob­lems. For ex­am­ple, it isn’t go­ing to make con­flict go away. But mak­ing space for peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent ideas and be­liefs can pro­mote health­ier con­flict in our lo­cal and na­tional com­mu­nity spa­ces.

And then there’s the ev­ery­day, in­di­vid­ual level where we have the most op­por­tu­ni­ties to prac­tise hos­pi­tal­ity to the strangers around us.

When my chil­dren were younger, there were times when I was “that” par­ent with the scream­ing child in the check­out line. There were al­ways some peo­ple whose faces made it clear they would pre­fer my child and I didn’t ex­ist, that we didn’t dis­rupt their pre­cious shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence. But then there were those who showed us hos­pi­tal­ity, whose ex­pres­sions sig­nalled their em­pa­thy and their en­cour­age­ment, and that made all the dif­fer­ence to a tired dad just do­ing his best.

So let’s look for more op­por­tu­ni­ties to prac­tise this kind of hos­pi­tal­ity. Find a fam­ily who needs sup­port and in­vite them for din­ner, ask the per­son in the call cen­tre how their day is go­ing, put your phone away and make eye con­tact with the barista tak­ing your or­der.

These sound like small, per­sonal acts that are hard to quan­tify, and they are. But the rip­ple ef­fect of these kinds of pub­lic virtues is the very thing that can shape the char­ac­ter of our so­ci­ety, and hos­pi­tal­ity is a great way to start.

"At its best, hos­pi­tal­ity is a kind of pub­lic virtue, an at­ti­tude and a prac­tice that changes the way we treat other peo­ple. "

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