Passengers on a train with screenshot overlay of NTY essay
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Hospitality and Welcoming Strangers

I’ve been thinking about philoxenia lately, which is the Greek word for hospitality. It literally means “love of the stranger.” (Contrast it with xenophobia, fear of the stranger.) 

I often think of hospitality as welcoming people to my home, and those people usually aren’t strangers. But what if I saw hospitality as something more expansive than that—as initiating encounters with people I don’t know, expressing welcome and curiosity, assuming mutual benefit from an encounter with someone I don’t know, from someone who seems to be different from me? 

David Brooks’ essay last week didn’t use the words hospitality or philoxenia, but he helped me see that there is sociological data to support the idea that we need encounters with strangers in our lives. The data shows that we all experience joy from little connections that we don’t even expect and that we protect ourselves against initiating. It takes courage— and it brings delight—to talk with strangers. 

 I love his conclusion:

“My general view is that the fate of America will be importantly determined by how we treat each other in the smallest acts of daily life.”

To move from a random conversation with a stranger to philoxenia, love for the stranger, is another step altogether. But the first step is the welcoming encounter in the small acts of daily life. Those small acts, these daily lives, can be the ones that lead us step by step towards more love. 

(For more thoughts on philoxenia, I also listened to this sermon recently.)

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