“Hospitality is the key to new ideas, new friends, new possibilities. What we take into our lives changes us. Without new people and new ideas, we are imprisoned inside ourselves.” – Joan Chittister, author and American nun
Being social and hospitable is more important than we may think not just for new ideas and possibilities. Social connections and rewarding relationships are powerfully connected to thriving.
We do better physically, psychologically, and even cognitively when among others who accept us. We fall apart when feeling rejected, devalued, and excluded.
Researchers like Dr. Todd Kashdan report that very little rejection is required for us to experience pain and …to doubt life’s meaning. He mentions several experiments including people in elevators who are ignored and pedestrians who don’t get a smile by passers-by. These seemingly small slights led to increases in sadness, despair and hostility and decreases in connection, belonging, self-esteem and meaning in life.
Physical pain and social pain may rely on some of the same neural mechanisms that register pain-related affect. Aspirin can reduce the pain of both. This all to say that social rejection really does hurt. And social inclusion really feels good.
These findings won’t surprise some like Reverend Sandy Liddell, a former Cashmere minister, who taught me a lot about the importance of hospitality. She claims that poet, Robert Frost, said that “inclusive” is the most beautiful word in the English language. She said she remembers being physically sick when excluded. She makes a point of frequently inviting others to her home even if it’s only for a peanut butter sandwich, boiled eggs, chili, or soup and coffee. (Feeding others is a classically human way of bonding according to experts).
Two friends have been wonderful models, like Sandy Liddell, of strongly valuing hospitality and connecting with others. They, like Sandy, have a multitude of friends. Here are three pointers I’ve learned from these three women.
First, understand the importance of relationships and make them a priority. For Sandy and my friends, this concept has become so much a part of them they don’t really have to think about it. They all became uncharacteristically speechless when I asked them how they went about prioritizing relationships.
They did give a few tips for others. For example, choosing certain days of the week to mark off on the calendar for having people over, say for Sunday games, Monday night movies, or Wednesday mahjong could be a start.
Second, don’t wait for others to take the lead and don’t keep score, just keep issuing invitations. But be alert and ready to accept others’ overtures no matter if it’s just for a quick cup of coffee. Some friendships have developed over a neighbor simply saying, “Can you come over to see some work I’m doing on an afghan?”
The third pointer is probably the most important. Make get-togethers fun for yourself. You’re not going to have fun and you’re not going to be very hospitable for very long if you’re tired from cooking and cleaning.
Sandy’s advice is always “keep it simple.” The main objective is not to impress people, but to make them feel comfortable and included. Clean-up is limited to pick up for the main spaces such as the bathroom, the kitchen, the dining room, and living room. She lights several candles to add some warmth. She’s usually serving a big pot of soup. Guests sit around a rustic table made from a door by her father.
My two other friends also know how to keep it simple, but sometimes they like to make it more interesting by doing special dinners together. They make it fun for themselves by having coffee (or a glass of wine) and planning what they will do that might stimulate their creativity. They savor the anticipation of the event as well as the actual get-together.
Changing habits can be difficult. You, like me, may notice that although you have good intentions around hospitality, your commitment begins to wane and you’re having trouble sticking with your plans. In that case, you may want to think more deeply about the importance of hospitality not only for others, but for your own well-being; what hospitality really is; and crucial, but easy ways of demonstrating hospitality.
Hospitality is, in essence, about giving to others.
Researchers have found that the incidence of heart attacks and other stress-related illnesses is closely correlated with self-preoccupation. Giving to others and social connections help relieve harmful levels of stress, which can harm the heart's arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system according to Harvard Health.
People who are more giving have more satisfying relationships. Satisfying relationships have been shown to make people happier. People who are happier and have good relationships have fewer health problems and live longer.
In contrast, having few social ties is associated with depression, cognitive decline, loneliness, and premature death.
Giving to others, not being pre-occupied with self, being hospitable, can mean doing those little, effortless gestures that pack a big wallop on our feelings of belonging. It is relatively easy to nod to passers-by and to say hello to people with us in the elevator.
I recently noticed how much more welcome and happy I felt when someone simply looked up when I entered the room and pointed out a place for me to sit in a crowded area. Others smiled when I joined them.
When I was eleven, nervous, entering a new school lunchroom in East Tennessee, a young girl my age looked up, smiled and motioned for me to sit with her and her friends. It was the beginning of a long friendship which helped sustain me through the ups and downs of adolescence. I still thank her in my heart often when I realize the deep impact that little gesture ended up having on my life.
For many of us the ultimate gift from another human being is feeling really heard. Catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen, wrote that listening is a form of spiritual hospitality.
Hospitality is important for all of us. It can be done in many ways. My first steps were to send a text reminding someone that I was thinking of them and then to invite someone I had not seen for a few weeks for a cup of tea. Both were rewarding.
And sometimes a little hospitality can save our lives. About six years ago in Washington, D.C. eight people were celebrating together in the backyard - one of them, Mike, had just opened a new restaurant. He was talking to his wife when a hand holding a gun came between them.
A man in a running outfit pointed the gun at his wife and said, "Give me all your f- ing money or I blow her head off. By some strange coincidence, not a single person had any money on them that night.
As they realized what a tense situation they were in, one where somebody was very likely to be hurt, even, killed, they tried to talk to the man with the gun. "What would your mother think? they asked.
"Don't have no f-ing mother," he replied.
One woman then stood up and said, "Look, we are having a celebration together. Our friend, Mike, just opened a new restaurant. Why don't you sit down and have a glass of wine with us?" She pointed to a place at the table.
Evidently, the atmosphere immediately totally changed. The man sat down, put gun in his pocket. Reached for a glass of wine - was given the bottle, then reached for some cheese. After a few bites he said, "How about a hug?" Mike's wife hugged him, so did the woman who offered the glass of wine.
"How about a group hug"? he asked.
The whole group got into a circle and hugged him. Afterwards, he picked up his bottle of wine, said he was sorry, and left.
How might we Journey to The Good Life by practicing hospitality
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