I spend quite a bit of time each week thinking about houses and neighborhoods because of my chosen career as a real estate appraiser. But more than my job, I find myself often imagining how neighborhoods can improve and become more connected like they used to be.
Below is an article I wrote in a series entitled “Community Building 101” (pdf file). “The Art of Hospitality” is the last article in this mini-essay series and I wanted to share it here on my real estate appraisal blog because life is not just about the value of our houses, but the quality and value of the relationships we have, even in our neighborhoods. Eating with neighbors is one of the the most profound but simple ways we can build a better community.
The Art of Hospitality by Ryan Lundquist
What is the best dining experience you’ve ever had? A few years ago I ate at a joint in San Francisco called Asia De Cuba. This fusion restaurant had spectacular ambiance and the feel of a hip club with its dim lights, pulsating beats, trendy décor, and exotic menu. Our group enjoyed four hours of eating and sitting together and we were never rushed to leave. The bill was substantial, but the unique experience was worth the high cost.
When guests leave my house after dinner, I want them to feel something similar. It would be great if they complimented the lavish food, stylish decorating, and festive atmosphere. That would be nice. I have a feeling though they’d more realistically say they’d eaten good non-gourmet food and felt mostly comfortable even though there were energized toddlers running around. Dining at the Lundquist home is not anything like an upscale restaurant, but that’s a good thing because practicing hospitality does not necessitate a gourmet experience.
There is something significant about welcoming others into our homes. When we ask people over we are giving them much more than a meal – we are inviting them into our lives. In an age of birthday card emails, drive-thru dinners, and brief cell phone interactions, it’s refreshing to sit down together for an unrushed hour or two and really get to know others. Sometimes though we think that being hospitable means we have to prepare the most scintillating dishes and spend all day cleaning the house. But it’s okay if the walls are not acid-washed, if toys are visible, and if there’s a stack of bills on the countertop. True hospitality is not about offering our guests perfection, but relationship. Sure, it’s nice to clean the house and spice up dinner a bit, but let’s remember that our guests are not customers to please but rather participants in a family meal. One of the most respectful things we can do is invite people into the life we really live. Besides, if we put so much effort into a meal we might exhaust ourselves and also cause our guests to feel intimidated about inviting us to their house.
Life is busy, so where do you find the time to eat a meal with others? Thankfully dinner is something that most of us do every night, so it’s just a matter of coordinating our schedules. If my household is eating dinner anyway and yours is too, it doesn’t seem all that overwhelming to combine efforts to dine together – especially on a weekend night. It always helps too to ask guests to bring a side dish or assist with preparation somehow.
The practice of hospitality is about sharing meals, but is more broadly about sharing our lives with people. This might seem like an odd topic to end a community building series, but by taking the initiative to invite other residents into our daily routines we can profoundly impact our neighborhoods. When we get intentional about helping our tracts become more connected like they used to be, we will begin to taste something wonderful – a sense of community.