While on a recent trip to my native home in South Carolina, my daughter Brontë remarked, “Everywhere we go here, everyone is so kind.”

She was right. They were very kind–not just because they had to be but because they chose to be. Honestly, that expressive kindness offered renewal for both her and me.

However, two days after we returned home, I watched sadly as an individual with impatient brazenness in a check-out line mocked and berated the grocery clerk with demeaning and derisive animations simply because she asked him to be respectful of social distancing.

Perhaps the contrast was so remarkably noticeable because of the timing of these directly opposite experiences. Nonetheless, it forced me to ponder and consider from where and how hospitality derives and how to maintain hospitality amid challenging conditions.

Could I ascribe it merely to an ingrained attribute, the cliché of “Southern hospitality” as a shared hereditary trait amongst all ambassadors of the South? Yet, somehow, it just didn’t feel entirely right. For, how does one society gain an inherited monopoly on humanity? Besides, if I did try and claim it as being only a Southern attribute, I would be forced to categorize my current home-base as a community of “western dyspepsia.” And I knew that wasn’t fair.

No matter from what region of the world you come, hospitality is a choice and requires each person to make the right choices to develop a friendly, inviting, and kind character.

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
Henri J.M. Nouwen

A few things I’ve learned…

1) Hospitality is always conceived in kindness.

A little song from my childhood reminds us about the following:

“I want to be kind to everyone,
For that is right, you see.
So, I say to myself, “Remember this:
Kindness begins with me.”

-Clara W. McMaster

We cannot wait for others to confer hospitality. We must author it by choosing every word carefully in kindness. We must initiate hospitality before we can learn to receive and appreciate it.

2) Hospitality seeks to facilitate comfort more than find compliments.

When our sincere consideration for the comfort of others overrides our own need for recognition as the benefactor of that comfort, we grow in our capacity to become genuinely hospitable. Genuine hospitality is absent of pride. Its focus centers on the welfare of those we serve rather than the intoxicating gratification of ourselves. Henri J.M. Nouwen states that only those who “have found the center of their lives in their own hearts” can offer true hospitality.

3) Hospitality finds roots in relationships.

Relationships we earn set hospitality’s stabilizing foundation. Who can become a welcoming host without someone to welcome? Hospitality invites and nourishes relationships and actively cultivates them, even when convolution and difficulty strain them. Therefore, friendship and camaraderie offer the fondest form of our graciousness.

True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.
Kathleen Norris

4) Hospitality shares, listens, and speaks in mutually considerate conversation.

The more we share, generosity becomes the hallmark of our hospitality. Sharing denotes a reciprocal interaction. It speaks but never fails to listen. It gives but likewise receives. Hospitality apportions one’s hopes liberally, giving equal attention and consideration to one’s challenges.

5) Hospitality not only entertains but engages.

Hospitality is less about the pretense of mere showmanship and far more than affectation and posturing. Hospitality allows others to participate, tell their story, and teach their dance steps. The charm of true hospitality is in sharing the stage for all to engage.

It sounds to me like we could all use a little more of this way of living.

  • How has the hospitality of others blessed your life?
  • What are the attributes of that hospitality that you desire to incorporate into living a more beautiful life?

Please share with us your perspectives about hospitality.

R. Shannon Mock


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