- The Concept Of Hospitality.
Harbouring the Stranger by Michael Sweerts.c 1646-9. Wikimedia Commons.
“Like thousands of others, we survived the storm and the many dark days that followed because of the kindness of strangers who brought food, water, and comfort.”
Hospitality may be defined as welcoming another into our space, with a view to looking after them.
It is a much bigger concept than merely ‘entertaining’ another, so much deeper and more meaningful.
Spring. Open Door on the Balcony. Pyotr Konchalovsky. Wikioo.
Hospitality is not only about opening your door; it is about opening your heart and your soul.
It involves creating places both within yourself, in a psychological way, and outside, around yourself.
These places are designed to receive and embrace, rather than to devise methods of exclusion.
Welcome to Our City – Charles Demuth. 1921. Wikioo.
“A hundred thousand welcomes. I could weep
And I could laugh, I am light and heavy. Welcome.”
We need to make boundaries between self and another more elastic, translate across vernaculars, offer greeting, help, invitation, compassion.
The Greeting. José Mongrell Torrent. Wikioo
“Speak tenderly; let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.”
The world belongs to all of us, and no-one has more rights to it than anyone else.
Having enough compassion to realise this fact, and being open to sharing and extending our hospitality to all human and non-human, sentient beings, is paramount.
So many of the great minds and thinkers in history have come to this same conclusion.
Dog’s Love. Noël Zia Lee. Wikimedia Commons.
“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
Dream, 1912. Franz Marc. Wikimedia Commons.
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”
- We Are All Part Of One World.
“When you call me European, I say yes.
When you call me Arab, I say yes.
When you call me black, I say yes.
When you call me white, I say yes.
Because I am in you and you are in me.
We have to inter-be with everything in the cosmos.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Each of us is a blend of the other, a melange of races and cultures, and a part of an infinite, larger whole.
Therefore, instead of thinking in terms of creating outsiders and building walls and fictional divisions, it is important to remember this fact and to contemplate commonality and inclusion.
Friendship. Petrona Viera (1895-1960) Wikimedia Commons.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
We share the world with others; it is not ours to own or claim. Thinking that we ‘own’ our country, or our national identity exclusively, is a myth.
We can always find a way to welcome others and offer sanctuary.
Connection – Annabel Obholzer. Wikioo.
“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.”
The phrase ‘grow in consciousness’ in the above quotation is important, for it underlines the fact that, before we can welcome another, we need to be aware of what is happening in our inner world.
Otherwise, we will live in a way that is unaware, perhaps of our own biases and prejudice. Then, we may lack empathy, and we will be unable to open our hearts, and our homes, to others.
The Refugees. Tamara De Lempicka. 1937. Wikioo.
“All life deserves respect, dignity, and compassion.”
This is especially pertinent now, as the Ukraine war continues and desperate refugees are searching for shelter and care.
John Henry Amschewitz. The Refugees. c. 1906. Wikimedia Commons.
‘… absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner (provided with a family name, with the social status of being a foreigner, etc.), but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names.’
However, even the most hospitable people will have limits, and most will want to know a few more details about the people to whom they offer help.
Derrida postulates an extreme position in his deconstruction of the notion of hospitality, but the quotation above contains much that is true and important to us.
- How Have the Pandemic and the Ukraine War Impacted on our Notion of Hospitality?
During the worst of Covid-19, we could not enter another’s space, for safety reasons. Yet hospitality was extended in different ways, and people really showed they cared for others, for their families, for neighbours and friends.
They could not invite them into their homes or spend time with them, but, instead, people shopped for others, phoned and saw them online, volunteered, and gave their support in many ways.
The pandemic increased our empathy for each other. We created space to meet online. We empathised with others’ plight, and offered hospitality in new ways to adapt to the unusual situation.
For a while, we were all in the same boat, locked in, often rowing against a strong tide, battling the storm together.
We entered emotionally into the world of others, feeling the same fears, of loss, of illness, of death.
There were times when many of us thought that we would not survive, and sadly, many people died from this terrible virus.
The Storm – Akseli Gallen Kallela. Wikioo.
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”
Many have offered help to refugee Ukrainians, and other desperate and deprived people. In Poland especially, many people have been offered places to stay and to be cared for.
In letting another person in, we are showing that we can understand something of how it feels to be hurt, or ill, or to have experienced the loss of our possessions, our homes, or those we love.
In order to be hospitable, and to work together with good intentions, we need empathy, as mentioned above.
We develop empathy through awareness of our own pain, and through being as free as we can from prejudice and racism against ‘the other.’
Without it, we cannot feel into another’s world, into their emotions and their distress.
Edvard Munch. Consolation. Wikimedia Commons.
“Despite how open, peaceful, and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you, as deeply as they’ve met themselves. ”
Without such self awareness, we will be unable to experience deep understanding for another and will have no real affinity with their plight.
It will not be possible to ‘walk in their shoes.’
We can only do this if we can identify with others in need, if we can know the pain within them, because we know something similar in ourselves.
“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of.”
Rachel Naomi Remen
Erik Henningsen – Evicted Tenants  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“When we know ourselves to be connected to all others, acting compassionately is simply the natural thing to do.”
Rachel Naomi Remen
- Compassionate Giving.
Giving back to the earth, the world, and to society for the bounties and benefits these give to us, is a common wish for many people.
Below are some words and images about the notion of ‘giving back,’ in different ways.
Spring Planting, Greenwich Village – (John Sloan)
“It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”
The notion of giving is quite a complex concept; there are many ways of thinking about it.
Giving comes in many guises. It is not only related to material things, although it can be.
Mary Oliver left her beautiful poetry to the world, a gift that is very much linked to hospitality.
Both poetry and hospitality invite you in to their world. They do so in an emotional way.
Poems attract you in through the power and beauty of their language, their offer of a story, word-pictures, their creativity. Hospitality involves an invitation, a loving offer to enter into, to share, to experience.
‘An act of hospitality can only be poetic.’
(Please refer to my earlier post for more on this subject: Letting in The Other: What does Hospitality Have in Common with Poetry?)
Poetry. Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. Wikioo.
“What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?”
Morning, Flowering Apple Trees, Eragny – (Camille Pissarro)
“At the end it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”
Thomas Benjamin Kennington – The Pinch of Poverty 
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
We may also give love, care, relief, empathy, friendship and so forth.
“If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.”
Ciel Bergman, Her Compassion. Wikimedia Commons.
“Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”
Listening with empathy, giving someone a smile or encouragement, confidence, or a glimmer of hope when things feel difficult, are all forms of sharing of ourselves with others.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
It may be, however, that there are psychological obstacles inside us which prevent us from being able to give freely to others, not only in practical terms, but also in relation to emotional giving.
When we have felt deprived and hurt in life, we can sometimes close up emotionally and not be able to ‘give of our heart.’
Ebenezer Scrooge. The Disney Wiki.
We may want to reject others and be inclined to shut out the world. We can sometimes be withholding and bitter even with those who care for us, because of our own internal pain.
Then, if there is the opportunity, it can be helpful to turn to psychotherapy, to begin to work through issues related to emotional giving.
- Psychotherapy and the Notion of Hospitality.
Psychotherapy also involves developing trust in the kindness of a stranger. Granted, the stranger in this case is a professional, but they are still previously unknown to us.
Hospitality is also a part of psychotherapy, an important part. What do I mean by this statement?
As therapists, we ensure that our therapy room is private, comfortable, relaxing and safe.
We welcome the patient into our space with a smile and a warm, caring and empathic manner.
We show interest and care, and we are non-judgemental and open in our attitude and our welcome of other human beings in need.
“There is no hospitality like understanding.”
The therapist offers a kind of love, which is safe, boundaried and professional. We work with the patient towards change with empathy and care.
Patients are offered a place and the necessary conditions for them to be open with their feelings, if they wish to do so, and to work through their pain, expressing themselves without fear of judgment or of breaches of confidentiality.
Transformation and change are relevant both to the notions of hospitality and of therapy.
“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
Both hospitality and therapy have the features of providing a space where people feel safe and free enough to effect change themselves.
In both cases, we are not imposing anything on the patient or guest, but being there in a way that enables the other to respond to insights, interpretations and perceptions, offered as possibilities.
“Hospitality should have no other nature than love.”
Group with Children – Emile Nolde. Wikioo.
“You can sit with us.
You can live beside us.
You can play your music.
You can listen to mine.
We can dance together.
We can share our food.
We can keep an eye on each other’s kids.
We can teach each other new languages.
We can respect traditions.
We can build new ones.
You can ask for a cup of sugar.
You can ask for directions.
You can tell me when things are hard.
You can tell me when beautiful things happen.
We can listen to stories.
We can disagree.
We can agree.
We can come to understandings.
You can wear what you want.
You can pray as you feel compelled to.
You can love who you want.
You can sit with us.”
Group Portrait. Felix Nussbaum.Wikioo.
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