It’s the holiday season, a time when many of us invite friends to gather together in our homes to share cheer and light in the dark days of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere). So the question comes up – what does it mean to be a good guest? We’ve all had bad guests before, and so one way to look at it is what to do and what not to do when we are invited to someone’s home. Reflecting on an experience I had with a bad guest, it struck me that being a good dinner guest is very much the same as being a respectful and gracious guest of the planet. And we are all guests here.
Our planet earth has been here for billions of years, and each of us lives for such a brief time. The earth provides all the essentials – the perfect atmosphere, warmth, food and water. Everything we use and need comes from her resources, and we are the lucky recipients. But are we properly respectful and grateful for al that is given, or do we take it for granted?
Some time ago a friend of mine had a friend in town for a few nights and her condo was not really suited to entertaining, so I hosted a dinner event, and invited them both. Now this was a nice dinner, four courses with a couple bottles of good wine. In this situation, what does it mean to be a good guest? Here are a few “rules” that I think most of us can agree on.
Rule 1: When you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, bring a little something, right?
You can bring a bottle of wine, or some chocolates, or if you love to cook, maybe even an appetizer. Or flowers – you can’t go wrong with flowers., and you really don’t have to spend much time or money, if that is an issue. A quick stop at almost any grocery store and you can have a thoughtful, modest bouquet in hand when you arrive.
The rule basically means: give something, don’t just receive. It’s just good manners, and a good rule to live by, dinner guest or not. We receive so much from the earth and her generous bounty. It is sometimes as simple as shade from a tree on a hot day, and then as complex as the atmosphere that allow for just the perfect condition for our life. There is the sun and the stars, and an incredibly complex ecosystem on land and in the oceans and rivers, in our agricultural system, and even in our gut.
What would it look like if each of us decided to commit to leave the planet in better shape than how we found it. Perhaps plant a tree, or pick up stray trash you find at the park or while on a hike, and throw it in the trash or recycle bin when you get home. You could gather with neighbors and find a way to improve the neighborhood. Can we try to give a little something every day?
So this friend of my friend, who I’ll call P, not only did not bring anything when he came for dinner, but he proceeded to talk most of the night about himself. He talked about his life, how successful he was at business, and how talented he was at marketing. He really was so self involved that he left that night not having attempted to know much of anything about anyone else.
Rule 2: Acknowledge other people at the table and be interested. Listen. Engage together either one-on-one, or as a group.
Sometimes we inadvertently act entitled to be on this planet and to use her resources in any way that suits us, regardless of the impact to the planet, and the possible inequality compared to others. Much of the time this is unconscious however we are now seeing with climate change that we cannot just live on this planet in a way that is about our needs alone. It doesn’t work.
We are part of a delicate ecosystem and in order to preserve the health and balance of the earth, it requires us to be conscious of how to create balance and work together for the health of all, that we learn about the planet and what sustains her (therefore sustains us). The health and well being of each of us is connected to the health and well being of each other, and of the planet. What would it be like if we each acted like what is good for you is what is good for me. We really are all in this together!
Now it turns out, as I found out later, P had invested around a million dollars in a business venture that was not doing well, and it was unclear if he would loose much of that, or hit the jackpot and make another million.
It’s not all about money. Our relationships and the connections that we have with each other are ultimately the thing that brings us the most joy and contentment. The research on happiness is clear – that simplicity leads to a greater sense of peace and fulfillment, yet making and spending money gets so much more attention. Of course money is necessary and important, but sometimes too much focus there excludes having time, connecting with family and community, and time to listen to our own deep wise inner voice. Time to be truly present with a friend, or a son or daughter. Consider choosing to have less and live more simply, and share more with those that do not have that choice because they struggle to have just the basics. More and more we are becoming a global planet, and a global people with less cultural and political borders that separates us. It’s time to even things out more between all of us.
Rule 3: If your dinner party is a small, rather intimate gathering, help clean up, or at least offer, and at a minimum, do something like help clear the plates.
Dinner over and my friend and P left without a single attempt to help – and I was left with a kitchen full of dishes to clean.
We are learning more and more about what happens when we don’t keep the earth relatively “clean”, or when we just assume that someone else will take responsibility for making sure it stays clean. Pollutants in the air create poor air quality and in many cities worldwide, the air is a health hazard. In New Delhi, Beijing and other cities around the world there is a clear health hazard and actual decrease in life expectancy due to severe pollution. But particulate in the air does not stay in one place. It does not have to be generated in your own town, it circles the globe. Radiation leaks, carbon emissions, chemical plants – all add to the dirty pollution in the air. Much of this we do not have personal control over except to urge our politicians to create and enforce policy to support the health of our air and water.
But we can vote at the ballot box for politicians that show willingness to make policy that supports our environment, and we can “vote” with our dollar – what we buy and where it comes from. Making choices to use less chemicals in our gardens, when cleaning our homes, and in products of all kinds, will help keep pollutants out of the ecosystem. Pollutants such as chloroflurocarbons (CFS) and bisphenol A (BPA) have been shown to be connected with cancer, heart disease, infertility, diabetes and a host of others health problems in human, but also disrupt the health of the water, soil and the life found there. And now we see the result of so many toxins and pollutants causing the atmosphere to thin, leading to the warming of the earth and endangering the viability of life.
Rule 4: Be grateful. If you really want to be a good guest, you send a thank you within a few days of the party.
A handwritten note is really nice, and an email or text is adequate. It is thoughtful and respectful to express appreciation and acknowledgement for a lovely meal and the effort and generosity that went into it. Occasionally I receive a handwritten note of appreciation from someone, and it is always enormously touching. I leave it on my desk for weeks. With everyone so busy, and the ease of sending a quick text, taking a few minutes to write and send something via snail mail has become rare, but often very meaningful.
When we remember all that we receive from the earth and each other, gratefulness is the natural response. For family and friends, for food and warmth, for the beauty around us, but also for the very air we breathe and our life. A daily gratefulness habit can be life changing. It can shift our perspective and in turn, lead to small changes in the way we live. How will you let it change your daily life?
Wouldn’t it be good to leave the planet better than when we found it? Leave if a little healthier, more beautiful, and more sustainable for all. Like a good dinner party, with the right people and an atmosphere of openness and kindness, when it’s over, everyone feels uplifted – enriched by the food and by connecting with each other.
Supporting our planet is not necessarily difficult, nor are we powerless to help. Small acts eventually grow to create big change.
So to recap some intentions that can help us all be good guests in our home, the Earth:
1) Be a giver. Remember how much is given to us by the Earth for free. Find ways to give back to the Earth herself – and to others, even those you don’t know. The pay it forward mentality can be a surprisingly lovely path to happiness.
2) Listen. Take time to listen to nature, and engage with community and people around you that live on this planet with us. Most of us want to be heard, understood and respected. Simple as this is, it can be a great gift to give this to others.
3) Help clean up the planet. Use less chemicals, clean up trash, recycle, throw less food away, or just be on the lookout for how you can help support the health of the Earth and her ecosystems.
4) Remember gratefulness. A change in perspective often does a lot to uplift our hearts, and that in turn uplifts others. And it reminds us to be humble, and to appreciate the abundance around and inside us.
Take a moment to experience a place of stillness.
Feeling the love that you have for life, your family and friends, and the earth herself.
A beautiful beach, your favorite tree, the clear blue sky, the sound of a running stream.
Think about things that you really love about this earth that remind you of the preciousness of life, and bring you pleasure.
All that you love about life that is given to you regardless of your success or lack of it, if you are economically fortunate or not, even whether you are grateful of not – it is the gift of life.
Surely this planet deserves our thanks – and our commitment to give our reciprocal care. After all, it is our home, the only home we have.