Fear is a great motivator. While it is sometimes well founded, fear can keep us from reaching out to each other.
It can keep us from seeing each other as children of God.
Indeed, fear can create what Sister Marlene Miller, OSB calls “negative hospitality,” in
which we blame the other for our own reluctance to help.
For example, the family who stopped to help Sr. Margaret might have chosen to scoff at her instead, blaming her for putting herself in the predicament.
Her culpability would not only have excused anyone from offering help, it would have made not helping an act of righteousness.
“Hospitality and hostility share the same Latin root word,” Sr. Marlene says. “It meant stranger or enemy.”
In a sense, then, hostility is the negative cousin of hospitality, turning the stranger into the enemy as an act of self-protection.
Another way we protect ourselves is through conditional hospitality, in which we withhold welcome unless and until certain behaviors are established.
“You can offer conditional hospitality – You do this, and I’ll welcome you – or unconditional hospitality – I welcome you for who you are,” Sr. Marlene says.
“Genuine hospitality is unconditional; it’s warm and open.”
Although hospitality has profound implications for both parties, the welcome we extend must not be dependent upon the other’s acceptance, reciprocation or good will.