After visiting some families, a group of educators were moved. They were immensely grateful for the hospitality they received. They felt most welcomed and were surprised at the candour in which their hosts spoke about their circumstances. It was obvious that raising a family with little resources was challenging and for some, their difficulty was compounded by the need to care for family members with special needs. Despite this, they noticed that their hosts lit up with pride when sharing about their volunteering efforts in their neighbourhood. How they had organised themselves to provide children with educational and social activities, food for their neighbourhoods and regular visits to older persons.
Hospitality as in the welcoming of strangers is a key property of a competent community. Over the past month or so, families across different neighbourhoods hosted our friends; some of whom were from overseas. These occasions were mutually rewarding for the hosts and visitors; despite coming from different backgrounds people connected with each other in friendship. They listened to each other respectfully and when children attempted to play host, there was usually much laughter as well.
The welcoming of strangers is also the welcoming of differences and hospitality would mean holding a space where different opinions and feelings can co-exist. During a post-visit reflection among a group of visitors, one participant wondered if it was at all helpful for families to be sharing about their challenges so openly as it would normalise a problematic situation. We were sitting in a circle and as a couple of others resonated with the view, others ensured that it did not become a dividing line. Alternative views and sentiments were offered in the spirt of sharing and not in debating fashion. One shared that she was deeply touched when she discovered that her host had taken half-a day off from work simply to welcome her. Another shared that her host was such a dutiful mother, it reminded her why “women hold up half the sky.”
Being in a conversation where differences are apparent requires us to listen in a way that gives others the space and confidence to own their opinions and feelings. This often means listening to appreciate and not to depreciate the other. It is also listening to understand and not to defend or to provide an answer. When we are convinced that we can to be true to our thoughts and feelings without the fear of being chastised in some way, our choice whether to remain or to leave a conversation is the real thing.
A community is a place we call our own. It begins when a group of people choose to come together not because of a contractual agreement or some incentives but but because by coming together they create a difference that they cannot achieve alone. By doing so, people deepen their connectedness with each other, the world around them and their capacity to care beyond themselves. In our book, a community is not an exclusive club but an ongoing endeavour to be more inclusive. An endeavour to create a more hospitable world for all of us to belong.
Enjoy your weekend.
Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. – Henri Nouwen