[personal profile] asthefiretree
"...and the universe,' continued the waiter, determined not to be deflected on his home stretch, `will explode later for your pleasure.'
Ford's head swiveled slowly towards him. He spoke with feeling.
`Wow,' he said, `what sort of drinks do you serve in this place?"
- The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

In considering the virtue of "hospitality", I've thought about what it means to me, and what the dictionary gives as its meaning.... cordial and generous treatment of guests. It comes from the same root as hospital and hospice.

Different cultures have different rules regarding aspects of hospitality. One example which I was reading recently came from the inside of a box of Celestial Seasonings tea, which spoke of Vietnamese Culture, and how very often, tea would be offered to visitors- even before strangers are introduced, and that it is not possible to politely refuse the offer. The mythologies of the world are full of stories of gods or royalty, disguised as beggars or travelers who come to a village seeking aid, shelter or a hot meal...those who offer their hospitality, even if it means emptying their paltry stores of food are rewarded, those who turn the stranger away are punished. One such story from Greek mythology is that of Baucis and Philemon:

Zeus and Hermes decided to test the hospitality of the people of Phrygia, disguised as poor travelers they traveled begging a meal at each house. They were turned away until the came to the humbles, poorest house where the couple Baucis and Philemon immediately set to preparing a meal with what little food they had. Before they could kill their goose, which was more of a pet to them, the gods revealed their identities and rewarded their hosts richly, destroying the rest of the village.

My own greatest experience with hospitality has come from Alpha Phi Omega, an organization that I joined in college. After I left school, I did a good bit of traveling. One of the things that most members learn is that we are very quick to offer our hospitality to others who may be traveling through our area- most often in the form of "crash space". I have had the opportunity to allow those who were traveling to stay at my place, as well as stayed (sometimes on very short notice) with others.

These examples speak of hospitality. While certainly a noble virtue, I would argue that in our list of, we should consider the wider idea of generosity. To be sure, hospitality does require generosity- to those who would come into your home or other area of your own control as well as from the guest. If I am a dinner guest in someone's home, they are going to act in a hospitable fashion towards me, and with the ancient custom of the guest gifting the host, I might bring for my hosts a bottle of wine, flowers, candy or something else as appropriate to the occasion, or I may entertain by telling stories or with song, sharing conversation and news of mutual interest. Nowadays it is also very common for a guest to clean up, or at least to offer to help clean up after a meal. But generosity is a variable in any equation that involves giving.... money to charity, food and clothing to the needy, giving time to help someone out, and yes, hospitality- giving to your guests, sharing your home, your food and drink, your comforts. Hospitality is generosity within a specific context.

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asthefiretree

March 2010

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