On the Lookout for Hospitality

It seems that an agreement has been reached to raise the debt ceiling, so as to avoid default.  After months of dire predictions,  weeks of preening by pundits and politicians, and several days of round the clock negotiating, a deal has been achieved, which  now requires formal endorsement by both the House and Senate.  Posturing will no doubt continue, accusations of betrayal will inevitably be made, and we will be continually reminded that there are no guarantees that the legislation will pass, or that the outcome will be fully embraced.

There has been, and will be, a lot of commentary about the importance of bi-partisanship, without which we would still be stuck; about the skill and patience of the negotiators, not to mention the urgency of settling the issue.  Taken together, it looks as though we will avoid financial catastrophe.

But I think there is another issue at play in this drama that has rattled markets and heightened anxiety; and that needs to be mentioned.  It is the presence of hospitality.  Not so much hospitality toward different positions that each side brought to the table, but hospitality toward the people who hold those positions.  The debt ceiling standoff has been an adversarial engagement, which has occasionally ratcheted up to political warfare.  But in spite of all that — and given the ubiquity of forces and voices that seek to demonize the other side, the principals in the negotiating process were able — at some level, to acknowledge the fundamental humanity in each other.  That acknowledgement, that hospitality, to my mind, enabled the process to move forward.

Hospitality is in short supply these days .  We tend to wrap people in their political positions with such thickness that we are not able to see their humanity inside.  And often don’t want to peel through the policies and postures people are enveloped in, or assume they hold onto. We can keep them distant, and demonized.  And we then live in an illusion of safety.  Hospitality does not enter the picture.

Several years ago I was invited to participate in a gun debate on Zoom sponsored by Braver Angels.  Two of us were on the gun reform side, and two were on the gun rights side.  Almost as soon as the debate began, I started bolstering my arguments, and strategizing about how to undermine theirs.  I had no real desire to establish a relationship.  Any listening I did was for the purpose of fashioning a rebuttal. 

I wanted to win.

I may have scored some points, but I didn’t make any difference.  We were dug in.  Hospitality was completely absent.  Hospitality involves receiving the other person first; and in spite of all the resentment that our polarized world generates, hospitality requires acknowledging one other’s humanity.  When hospitality is in play, true listening can happen, negotiating can be engaged, and making a difference becomes more possible.

There are those who would argue that hospitality is a waste of time.  Or that hospitality should be confined to the basics of social etiquette, and not go any deeper. 

To counter this rather constricted view of the world, we would do well to be on the lookout for moments of hospitality, which often lie beneath situations that get more attention and greater press.  Name them.  Celebrate them.  Be guided by them.

It can make a difference.

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