I have a social experiment for you to try.
The next time you invite someone to your home, out to dinner, to join you for coffee or any reason to get together, make your first words to them this phrase: “You’re welcome!”
The first time I went to Africa – and the other times since then – it always takes me a bit to get used to that welcoming phrase because, “You’re welcome,” in America, is a response to someone saying, “Thank you.” In Africa, they lead with, “You’re welcome.
However, once you let that welcoming phrase settle into your soul, you realize it makes perfect sense. They are saying to you, “you are welcome in my space.” No matter what the space is, they want you to feel welcome.
And there is no hospitality like African hospitality. In every African country I’ve been in, I am treated like royalty. Although many of the places I’ve visited the people are incredibly impoverished to the point of living in mud huts and thatched roofs, they drop everything they are doing and give you the best that they have. It is humbling. In a remote village of Dahlo, in Ghana, each time we arrive, they give us a goat. No, not as a pet; as dinner. They will even biggie size the goat if they feel like the little guy they gave you is not enough.
In fact, it is my opinion after having spent the last two decades going into some of the poorest places on earth that we Americans could learn a thing or two from people who wonder where there’ next meal is coming from. Here is what they understand about real community that I think we overlook.
- They truly need each other. There is a Swahili phrase that says, “Today it’s me; tomorrow it’s you.” That concept is based on the idea that people who have, today, share with those who have not because they know that tomorrow, the roles might be reversed.
- Community is based on survival; not on convenience: In America, we can be pretty selective about community, largely because of transportation. We chose to spend our time around people who like the same sports, have the same faith system, like the same recreational activities and the list goes on, But when the village has no vehicle, no electiricy and, therefore, no television or electronics, then people just naturally hang out with each other. Even people they don’t like.
The first words I heard when I landed this time was, “You’re welcome!”
That phrase stirs an unusual gratitude deep inside and a feeling of belonging.
You are welcome. Always.