I’ve been having a complete blast here at Dartmouth. This morning I was giving a talk to the Dean of the College Staff and one of the speakers who went before me was discussing a very cool plan that they are implementing to allow the campus community to get involved in discussions about what kind of campus they want to be. One of the things that their Resident Life group uses as a standard is being “Radically Hospitable.”
I’ve been involved in lots of conversations about accessibility and accommodation but I’ve never heard it couched in these terms. It struck me that being accessible – at least in the ways that I’ve heard it used – has a very different connotation than the idea of being radically hospitable.
What if, instead of complaining about how much of a pain it is to accommodate left-handed people, or how difficult it is to make a space accessible, or how a business shouldn’t have to accommodate fat people – or not thinking about these things at all – what if instead of that, our discussions were around how we could be radically hospitable.
What if healthcare offices challenged themselves to figure out how everyone could be accommodated without shame – from something as simple as having armless chairs in their lobby to something as mission critical as having the equipment that they need to transport, move, and treat patients of all sizes and dis/abilities? Not because someone filed a lawsuit, not begrudgingly, but because they were truly excited about removing barriers to healthcare rather than trying to justify them.
What if people who happen to find themselves easily accommodated by most spaces were asking those places why they don’t make everyone feel so welcome and comfortable?
What if everyone, not just those who aren’t accommodated, refused to patronize businesses that aren’t committed to radical hospitality?
What if those who plan spaces and events had conversations starting at the beginning of planning and lasting until it was over, asking themselves and their guests how they can be more radically hospitable?
I think that an excellent way to start is with discussions like the ones being promoted by programs like Our Dartmouth, Our Home. What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of community do we want to live in? What kind of workplace do we want? Do we want to justify being inhospitable or choose to be as hospitable as possible? Do we want to try to insist that people who want to be accommodated should feel ashamed, feel like they are a burden, or feel the need to justify their desire to be comfortable? Or do we want to encourage people to believe that they absolutely deserve spaces that are welcoming and comfortable for them?
We can start with ourselves – are the spaces that we control radically hospitable? When we invite friends out do we make sure that we’re inviting them to a space that welcomes them with radical hospitality? Does that movie theater have fat-friendly seating? Does the restaurant have delicious well thought-out vegetarian and vegan options or are they just going to steam whatever vegetables are around? Does the hall where that lecture is happening have desks that work for left handed people? Is that old theater wheelchair accessible? How long of a walk is it from the parking lot to the club? Are there stairs? Is it on a public transportation route? Can you get a scooter to your beach bonfire? Then expand – whether or not I have a friend who isn’t fully welcomed by a space, do I want to support businesses tat aren’t radically hospitable? How about leaving feedback with the business, on yelp etc. letting them know exactly why they aren’t getting your money.
We can also start talking about this at our workplaces. Is the business absolutely committed to providing radical hospitality to its employees so that they can do their jobs under the best of circumstances? How about customers? Are there armless chairs in the lobby? How is the office accessibility – does it just meet minimum standards or has someone really looked at how it can be made as accessible as possible? Consider having people get in a wheelchair and try to get around your office, school campus etc – I bet you’ll think of things that you can do to make it better. Ask your customers what you can do to be more welcoming to them. Start talking about Radical Hospitality as a business concept- how can we use it to help the bottom line, customer acquisition, retention, and referrals, etc.
There are lots of actions that we can take to make a better world, but I think that often the first action is declaring that we want a better world, a better workplace, a better community – and I’m really inspired by the work that so many people here at Dartmouth are doing to make that happen.
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