Discussion #2–Hospitality

Last night ten of us got together for a wonderful discussion on hospitality.  Something we discovered early on as our discussions moved from ritual, to government, to community, to security, to culture, etc. was how much of life hospitality encompasses.  Everyone had personal experiences of hospitable and inhospitable spaces, and how that influenced their feelings about a particular group, faith, or person.

One participant recounted a story of her experience of Sikh hospitality in a gurdwara in India–their willingness to take any person or family in regardless of faith or background and feed and shelter them as needed.  She noted that their hospitality was not only necessary to some people’s survival, but also built interfaith and intercultural understanding as non-Sikh people who relied on their hospitality had a chance to engage in dialogue with members of the community.  This is especially vital in an area of the world where there are so many religions and cultures living closely together, some of whom from past conflicts have built feelings of deep mistrust between them.

As we discussed barriers to offering hospitality, many of us shared struggles with our own perceptions of security–around inviting a stranger into one’s home, for example, and around rituals that our cultures, families, etc. have taught us to equate with hospitality.  Getting caught up in the tidiness of our homes, protocols over how or whether one is invited over, whether we have enough/the “right” food to offer, getting caught up in guest and host “roles”, were all ways that we identified finding ourselves getting lost in our attempt to fully live out what it means to be hospitable.

Another participant mentioned the biblical story of the Wedding at Cana as an illustration that the giving of hospitality  extends beyond your own home to the homes of others.  In relation, we discussed a government program that teaches newcomers to Canada what their human rights are, what they can do if they are discriminated against, and what their responsibilities are in not discriminating against others (training that we could all benefit from).  From this we extrapolated that hospitality is a relationship that involves not only the host, but the guest as well.  As one person put it, ideally the understanding should be “I will give you everything in my home, but please respect me.”

Immanuel Kant’s Third Definitive Article in his philosophical essay Perpetual Peace recognizes the need for universal hospitality in order to achieve a perpetual peace–a true understanding that we have a “common right of possession on the surface of the earth”.  We discussed Canada thinking of itself as a hospitable country versus our legal and social treatment of newcomers.  We also discussed our experiences of our own faith communities’ hospitality.  Important behaviours for faith communities that people mentioned, included:

  • Looking at how and whether we welcome people as they are–whether they be dressed “appropriately” or from the “right” community, or whatever.
  • Are we welcoming “outsiders” and “insiders” equally?  Do we have a set of assumptions of how “real” members should behave versus new people?  Are these necessary/relevant to who we are?
  • Do we expect people who are not from our faith to come in to check us out?  Do we have a way of allowing them to participate or not and make them feel comfortable while they are in our space?

We reflected on traditional institutions promoting hospitality, such as religion and culture, and new forms such as the online community www.couchsurfing.org which is not only an online community and sub-culture, but also an intentionally alternative economic structure.

In general, we recognized that living out hospitality often comes easier to those who know experientially how important the hospitality of others is to their own survival, but that does not prevent those of us who may be less reliant on the hospitality of others from intentionally bringing the practice of hospitality into our everyday lives.

Thanks again to everyone for the great discussion!

Next month’s discussion: March 21st–what place does ritual play in your faith and/or spirituality?


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