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Mack Williams: Hospitable vs Hospitality

Mack Williams

At first glance, the words “hospitable” and “hospitality” sound like the same thing. But there is a difference, not enough to be a world of difference, but an “otherworldly difference” is dealt with in today’s column.
Since I’m a child of the 1950s and 60s, my generation grew up with being fascinated with space travel, and got to see it actually come to pass! We also saw a “slew” of sci-fi movies where the space alien wasn’t shown a proper welcome; instead the Army and the Air Force were quickly dispatched. Even when the space visitor had at least some gentlemanly attributes, it was seldom met with likewise.
Who knows? Maybe those creatures picked the wrong area of the country in which to land. They were always landing out West or up North (“The Thing “ even landed at the North Pole). Maybe if they had set down in the South, they might have been meet with some good old Southern hospitality.
I’m not implying the receipt of a sandwich and maybe a jar of jelly like Aunt Bee gave the man from Charlotte who was “in a hurry” (and it’s funny, that when anyone showed up in Mayberry from Charlotte or Raleigh, they usually had a Bronx accent).
Space movies and science always seem to be concerned about conditions which are “hospitable” to the simple necessities for life’s genesis and sustenance, kind of like the late Phil Harris’ song “Bare Necessities” in “Jungle Book” (1967). Since he sang the part of a bear, I always liked that play on words of “bare” and “bear.”
Before I retired from the science museum, I enjoyed questioning the school children as to an animal’s four basic needs of food, water, air, and shelter. If a child got all of them except “air,” I would clue him with, “If I run out of it, I will have to take a big breath of it to keep talking with you!” And, of course, the answer “air” would come back to me (on the air).
As far as “hospitality” is concerned, I feel that it takes those four basic (hospitable) needs for life and adds to them the element of good will, the fifth basic need (also known as Golden Rule).
Years ago, there used to be a lady at one of the local churches who proclaimed herself as that church’s “welcome wagon.” She always brought the new church member or family a basket of artisan bread (food), a bottle of wine (drink), friendly, welcoming words (air) and invitation to the sheltering arches of her church.
Scientists have done a good job of finding some planets out there in the great “ether” which may be hospitable to life; but so far, on those planets actually reachable by landing probes, neither the unrolling of the “welcome mat,” nor the appearance of the “welcome wagon” approaching over some strange horizon have been detected.
No creature has yet come plodding along, gazed into the Martian Rover’s eye and said to us back here on Earth, “Hi! Hope ya’ll are doin’ fine!” (if stated that way, the creature would most likely be from the Argyre Basin, in other words, “Southern” Mars). Now that would be some actually detected other-worldly hospitality!
When the adjective “hospitable” evolves, it achieves further greatness in the noun “Hospitality” (I’ve always thought the Germans were on to something special in their capitalization of all nouns, not just those, proper).
Nope. At this point, we still only know of one place in the universe where “hospitable” conditions can be carried up the slope to the summit of “hospitality;” though sometimes, sadly, its highest functioning “creatures” sometimes find that load too burdensome to bear.

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