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(Published: 2012-11-18)

Many of you are probably getting ready to head over the river and through the woods to someone’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones. Or, perhaps the arrival of guests in your home is imminent. Please take a moment to think about the many displaced families in the Northeast, who, thanks to Superstorm Sandy, are temporarily homeless. Many are counting on family or depending on complete strangers to offer them hospitality this year.

This started me thinking about the meaning of hospitality. Hospitality is defined as the warm, friendly reception and generous treatment of guests or strangers. Today’s hospitality trend is primarily entertaining friends and acquaintances in one’s home.

It used to be just the opposite. According to Theodore Zeldin (An Intimate History of Humanity), “once upon a time (hospitality) meant opening one’s house to total strangers, giving a meal to anyone who chose to come, imploring them to stay the night, though one knew nothing about them.” Throughout history, this open hospitality trend was admired and practiced by virtually every civilization that ever existed.

As times change, trends change. Over the centuries, unconditional hospitality to strangers pretty much disappeared. Today, we’re far less receptive to peddlers selling unusual goods, or strangers bringing interesting news or novel ideas from afar. We can get all that and more from the Internet, through on-line shopping and social media.

I think it would be an interesting reframe if we could begin to think of hospitality in terms of keeping an open MIND. If everyone became more hospitable to strange ideas, to the opinions of others, to unfamiliar traditions, we might be able to find new ways of working together.

Somehow, in the midst of a bruising election, we managed to overcome our navel gazing and help complete strangers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It shouldn’t take a disaster to open our hearts and minds and bring us together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all practice a deeper kind of hospitality—the hospitality of an open mind?

I’m advocating for something beyond civility or politeness here, although that would be welcome, too. It’s time to stop being afraid of new ideas as though they were monsters. The old fashioned definition of hospitality offers a great template. We need to open the doors of our minds and invite in the unknown. We have to be willing to let go of old habits and tired dogma.

Zeldin believes that hospitality “fulfills a basic human need.” We’re all hungry for a better way of life. It’s time to feed our bodies AND nourish our spirits. New attitudes can’t be mandated by law—they have to spread organically from one person to another.

This year, I’m setting an extra place at the table for open-mindedness. Happy Thanksgiving!

Open door... mind

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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