The feeling of a warm welcome is how it all begins.
Hospitality is simply known to refer to the relationship between a guest and a host – typically of generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests: hospitable treatment as they say, a place that is accommodating and welcoming.
An excerpt from a classic novel to help expand on this notion further and set the stage.
You can’t stay here, sir. Excuse the discourtesy.
I don’t want to stay, said the visitor, I only wanted to rest a little. I have rested, and now I shall go.
You’re probably surprised to find us so inhospitable, said the man, but hospitality is not our custom here, we have no use for visitors.
The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)
This short reading puts the question of meaning and connection within a social context, where it rightfully belongs. It also suggests that we’re nostalgic for a world in which hierarchy structures human relations. The quote may seem strange or baffling to some, and yet it’s because we refuse to believe that there exists a culture, a society, an organization even, or a form of social connection without a principle of hospitality.
Let’s continue with this compelling thought and introduce a bit of etymology – some linguistic perspective perhaps.
The word ‘hospitality’ derives from the latin ‘hospes’, meaning host, guest or stranger. And this word ‘hospes’ was formed from ‘hostis’, which initially meant “stranger”, later evolving to mean “enemy” or “hostile stranger” (‘hostilis’).
By close association, the latin word ‘hospital’ took on the meaning of ‘guest-chamber’ or ‘guest’s lodging’ – and so the roots of the English words we commonly use today like host, hospice, hostel and even hotel, took hold.
Now, all that considered, the word ‘Hospitalität’, of Latin origin, is actually of a troubled and troubling origin, a word which carries its own contradiction incorporated into it. And concealed within, a word which allows itself to be exploited by its opposite – “hostility” – toward the ‘undesirable guest’.
And so true hospitality is somewhat of a mystery, tangled in both time and meaning. It’s archaic, modern, current and future, all magnetized into a single word – a dilemma in semantics that actually demonstrates a deeper significance; how hospitality cannot exist on its own, and only comes to life meaningfully when shared between people.
A selfless act of bringing people together and expressing a deep appreciation for being in their company. The true host ultimately fosters shared moments and builds an atmosphere of harmony – orchestrating a private symphony amongst guests, if you will.
Hospitality dwells within lived experience; a gift given by the host to the guest and then shared between them. Revealing how the true essence of hospitality is simply an act of generosity experienced by the guest, converting strangers into friends, and perhaps more importantly, transcending social shortcomings.
Thriving in contexts of culture and community, hospitality further showcases how an invitation a host extends to guests is one of the purest forms of curation. An engagement so highly considered that it merits being recognized as an art form.
Which brings us to a crucial juncture here, raising sensitive yet vital questions. What is left of this principle of hospitality when we truly look at our relationships today? Are we preserving our connectedness to each other or treasuring our ‘individuality’?
Striving to such levels of hospitality may prove daunting for most as it demands a keen eye and careful awareness to the rhythm and melody being played – as a maestro would when setting the tempo and aiding to conduct a beautiful performance.
Suggesting that the true nature of hospitality is an elusive yet permeating force that flows in subtle motions. Grounded by a set of highly valued social principles, of barely noticeable cues and ever so slight gestures.
Steeped in ancient customs and heritage, hospitality is a phenomenon so fundamental, and deeply rooted in cultured societies over millennia, that it remains a way of life for many still today – ingrained in the psyche of its natives.
Perhaps it’s also the driving force behind kindred spirits – the intangible thing that evokes in us feelings of friendship and belonging.
And depending on who you ask and where, it may even be considered a superpower – at least exclusively amongst those indigenous to it!