You are Welcome

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 1.39.10 PMWelcome! As the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games are set to start today in Toronto, it brings to mind the notion of hospitality and how people are made to feel welcomed into a physical or digital space. Are there commonalities to how people should be treated when they are new, visiting, or present in someone else’s domain? How do our actions help others feel good or deter them from entering our communities, homes, or digital spaces?

This topic first caught my attention in Rhizo15 where Maha Bali shared thoughts about hospitality in two blog posts – Secondhand Derrida & Hospitality, Hospitality and Invasion. This idea of hospitality and being welcome has been bouncing around in my head since those thought provoking posts. With the influx of guests participating and viewing the upcoming Panamania, how are they being ‘welcomed’ both individually and connectedly? My recent experiences of playing host to company from out-of-town and being a guest in another person’s home emphasized how being hospitable and welcoming makes people feel. How do these models of hospitality relate to digital learning spaces?

Welcome mat

It’s more than laying out the welcome mat. There’s preparation to be done – food, beverages, sleeping arrangements. Thoughts focus on the other person – what do they like, need, or do. Making logistical arrangements for transportation, activities, entertainment and physical needs have to be planned and prepared. That’s even before the guests arrive. While they are present, it’s about being attentive, available, engaging and responsive. It’s not always a perfect fit because there are human emotions and behaviours involved, but it’s worth working on if we want people to come together.

“Hospitality exists within lived experience; it is a gift given by the ‘host’ to the ‘guest’, and then shared between them.” (O’Gorman, 2006)

For the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, Toronto has invested billions and preparations have taken years to complete. Now the welcome mat is laid and the guests are arriving. It’ll start with a party and end with a bang. In between, there will be lots of entertainment, events, food, accommodations and logistics to manage. The web site is a hub of information and the app will keep people up to date. Merchandise, social media, a theme song, and newsletters will connect memorable moments in the present and for the past.

For my own visitors, it wasn’t about the party or the big bang. It didn’t involve tweeting about events or highlights. Hospitality for guests in my home involved cleaning, changing bed linens, preparing food, and planning some outings with rest and conversation between events. It included paying attention to providing drinks or comforts (e.g. pain medication for headaches, ashtrays for the smokers) while still engaging in conversations and enjoying laughs together.

“Absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give …… to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come….” (Derrida in O’Gorman)

In digital spaces, before a course or online learning activity begins, there are lots of elements to consider. Since the ‘guest’ or learner is unknown, there are many elements that, carefully planned and structured, may need to be adjusted as the participants arrive. The presence of the host is essential throughout the time any ‘guest’ is in the learning space. The host is an active participant in the conversations and laughter. The best online learning spaces are co-hosted or prepared by a team because the work is shared and collaboratively constructed. While one host is sharing and updating content and may forget to check on the discussion forums, another can focus on those, so together the course runs smoothly.

While hosts in online and digital spaces may not be preparing food or changing linens, redirecting traffic or building accommodations, there is lots to be done prior to the unknown guest’s arrival. Creating and designing a system of learning that is intuitive, engaging and sustainable requires a logistics expert. Recording an intro video, capturing a weekly summary, making personal contacts, inserting thought provoking prompts, responding to questions, re-directing when misunderstandings occur, building and scaffolding learning activities, and managing time are all hosting requirements within digital spaces. Hospitality is hard work.

“The very precondition of hospitality may require that, in some ways, both the host and the guest accept, in different ways, the uncomfortable and sometimes painful possibility of being changed by the other.” (Derrida in O’Gorman)

So there is the challenge not only for large sporting events, home visits, or online learning. Change is going to happen. It may be difficult at times. Patience may be stretched and limits may be reached. The relationship between host and guest will forever be changed by the lived and shared experience. The memories, be they good or bad, will be shared and reflected on – with a collection of images, videos, artifacts and tokens. This is the reason hospitality is so important – it is a gift of generosity and friendship. It changes people, ideas and practices. It makes the world a better place – to share interests, share laughter, share moments. Together host and guest can ‘cross thresholds of hope’. So, please come in, sit down, share a story, and stay awhile. You are welcome here.


O’Gorman, K. D. (2006) Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of hospitality. Hospitality Review. 8(4), 50-57.

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1 Response to You are Welcome

  1. Pingback: Hospitality revisited | Five Flames 4 Learning

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