H is for Hospitality
Gosh, I am behind on the PBP. Here’s my attempt to catch up.
Ever since I fell in with Irish paganism and/or polytheism, I was taught that the laws of hospitality were of great importance. It’s an Irish virtue. That sounds great, right? Welcome those in need in to your home, fortify them with stew and wine, treat them well, and so on. These very principles have saved me in my darkest hours. When I lost everything, I was taken in, strengthened, sheltered, and fed. The influence this had on me can’t really be overstated, and it changed me, made me think about the concept of paying it forward in ways I never had before. Not to mention, the Tuatha de Dannan sometimes like to wander around in disguise and rejecting them is often a perilous action. One shouldn’t assume a dirty beggar or an old woman are to be ignored; they could very well be gods.
Well, that’s the light side. Several years ago, a friend of mine welcomed chaotic, harmful people in to her home out of the best of intentions. They were in need, and she thought that meant she had to honor hospitality and take them in. A wrecked home and a pack of traumatized house pets later, she felt lessened by the experience and betrayed by the hospitality ethos.
Taking someone in to your home can be a very intimate thing. They’re passing through your personal shields, putting their feet on your coffee table, disrupting your little gaggle of home and land spirits, whatever. While the way we deal with strangers is of the utmost importance, what happens when a guest starts to manifest as a malicious force in your most vulnerable spaces?
Even in olden times, rules arose about how much one was obligated to give as part of hospitality. At first perhaps the ideal was to give unstintingly to whomever showed up, but of course the law loving Irish soon saw how impossible to uphold that was. So, just as they crafted rules to minimize abuses and undue hardship, we too should do the same.
1). Set limits.
What are the person’s needs? Can you provide for those needs? How? And perhaps most importantly, for how long? Especially if you’re dealing with issues of poverty yourself, it can become very difficult to take on another person’s problems. Recently I offered sanctuary to someone in need, but made very clear that she had a year to stay with me. After that, she would need to stand on her own two feet and find a more permanent situation. My household is very poor and the primary people who live there deal with mental health issues that at times, she exacerbates through no fault of her own. To stay healthy, I had to set a time limit.
Other limits may be financial in nature, or have to do with behavior. What is and isn’t acceptable at your hearth? Will the person be allowed to bring their lovers in to the home? How do they deal with frustration, anger, depression, and are their coping mechanisms compatible with yours? If one of you retreats and wants to be alone and the other is constantly seeking validation, you’re likely to have a poor go of it.
2). Learn to spot abusers.
You are not obligated to help an abuser. Ever. Over on Postcards to a Narcissist, the article talks about why Christians are not obligated to remain with or enable a narcissist. This applies across the board, in all faiths, and to all types of abuse and abuser. You must protect your home and hearth against these people. Here are some helpful links specifically in regards to narcissism:
In essence, “narcissism, in lay terms, basically means that a person is totally absorbed in self. The extreme narcissist is the center of his own universe. To an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used. It usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment.”
Another point to be made here is that while you may understand why a person became an abuser (abusive childhood, mental illness, brain injury etc) it is a reason, not an excuse. Under no circumstances should you allow these people to infect you and those you love. However, in certain cases you may be able to refer the person to those who can help, like mental health counselors, hospitals, appropriate religious figures etc.
Unfortunately the above post has a gendered title once you go to the original link, but suffice to say all genders can be psychopaths.
Of course, not all abusers have a personality disorder. Sometimes they may be acting out of genuine ignorance or because of a mood disorder. While you may wish to offer more help to these people because of their inherent intact personhood, it is often best done from a healthy distance. Know your limits as far as being a helper. Even if you are a therapist, you are not obligated to act as one with your friends and loved ones. In fact, it is highly unethical to do so.
3). Foster a culture of reciprocity.
If you take in someone in dire financial straits, it’s unlikely they will be able to help you with buying groceries. However, maybe they’re a great cook and can make dinner every night. If you have children (and I assume if you do you will only allow trustworthy people in to your home and life) the person might be able to babysit so you can go out and have a night off. If there’s a give and take, it’s far less likely that resentment will develop and fester.
So, after being taken in and taking in others these are my basic guidelines for doing it safely. If you guys have anything to add to this, I’d love to hear it in the comments.