March 29, 2002

The Heroism of Hospitality

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

Rochester, MN -- Hospitality is a modest word. It defines a human value that sounds perhaps a bit lower in the ethical hierarchy than, say, altruism or heroism or magnanimity.

But I'm not so sure. I think perhaps hospitality is the greatest ethical practice there is. I think it's got a lot of relevance to our current situation in the world. I think it's a big part of the answer we're looking for.

I think maybe hospitality requires more courage, more determination, more imagination, and more moral commitment than does altruism, heroism, or the other more celebrated virtues.

For example, you can become a hero in a matter of minutes. If there's a baby in a burning house, your adrenalin may kick in, you go on autopilot, you save the baby, and you're a hero.

However, to be hospitable means that day in, day out, year after year after year, quietly and without seeking or gaining glory, you seek out people who are strangers and different from your way of life, very often people who are less fortunate than you, and you make the effort to get to know them and to bring them into your life.

You share the bounty of your life with these strangers. You make the effort to understand their lives, where they came from, what they believe, and what motivates them. You get rewards, but you really have to work for them.

Rarely will you be celebrated as an "hospitable" person on the front page of the local newspaper. But probably a person who is hospitable throughout their lifetime offers just as much to a community as the one-time hero does. Probably more.

Hospitality invites new attitudes, beliefs, skills, knowledge, and other treasures to be incorporated into the life of a community where they can add to the spice of life and to the survival kit.

Here is what Immanuel Kant in his essay on "Perpetual Peace" has to say about hospitality:

"Hospitality signifies the right every stranger has of not being treated as an enemy in the country in which he arrives. One may refuse to receive him, it if can be done without endangering his existence; but one dares not act hostiley towards him, so long as he does not offend any one. One speaks here only of the right all men have, of demanding of others to be admitted into their society; a right founded upon that of the common possession of the surface of the earth.

"The sea and uninhabitable deserts divide the surface of the globe; but the ship and the camel, that vessel of the desert, reestablish the communication and facilitate the right which the human species all possess, of profiting in common by its surface.

"In this manner distant regions may contract amicable relations with each other, sanctioned in the end by public laws, and thus insensibly mankind may approach toward a cosmopolitical constitution."

Just some thoughts.

Copyright @ 2002 The McGill Report