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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

W and X

Wonder and Xenodochy

I wonder why we wonder so little anymore. Perhaps it’s because we have seen all that there is that we might described as wondrous. Have we used up our quota of awe because we have seen so much. Have our feelings of amazement at a thing beautiful or remarkable or unfamiliar been supplanted with cynicism and disinterest? Can we no longer simple wonder at what might be because we have a belief in our own entitlement to things?

I am a creature of awe. I am frequently amazed by the world I find myself in and I find life truly remarkable. Human courage, perseverance, physical capacity fills me with wonder. Pristine and terrifyingly wild environments make me feel like I’ve just opened my eyes for the first time to see anything. I was in Iceland a few months ago and at every corner of the country I was certain I had seen the most awesome and wondrous place…until the next corner where something equally amazing appeared. I was truly concerned I’d run out of ‘awe’.

Is wonder just for children. Should it be just for children? Our adults too jaded, too exhausted by negativity to feel wonder? Is

the world too awful for us to be moved by simple beauty. Are we likely to abrogate our responsibilities if we all get about gaping at nature like 1960s flower children?

Well I doubt that and I think the research supports that a sense of wonder is possibly the dose of therapy our fried brains might just need. To feel awe/wonder/reverence/astonishment is to avoid cognitive drift (Scheidel, 2020). That state where we just go about our lives on auto-pilot without engaging in what actually happens around us. And it’s not just for the moment we wonder that we benefit. All extraordinary ideas begin with wonder. The sense that there is something more than the tiny kernel of the life we live, that our lives are entwined in the most remarkable dance with the physical world is positively uplifting.

And maybe, just possibly if we spend a little more time marvelling at the beauty of our planet, the animals and all the people in it, we might just do a little more to protect it and each other.

The opposite of wonder? Disinterest? Dispassion? Stupefaction? Sounds miserable.

Wisdom begins with wonder. Socrates

And you didn’t think I could find a feeling beginning with X. Well I wanted to avoid, at all costs, xenophobic so I’ve gone for it’s marvellous, should I say awesome, opposite. Xenodochy.

Unlikely to be in the vocabulary of many of us but hopefully it is our social practices. Xenodochy or being xenodochial simply means we treat strangers with a sense of welcome and hospitality. It emphasises kindness and respect to those we do not know, or who are new to our place.

I feel the world would be a better place if we strove to be more understanding of those we see as strangers. In a world were some seek to draw lines between them and us and focus on the differences between people, it is hard to see how similar we all are. The need for love, shelter, food, safety and education doesn’t discriminate along the lines of culture or race. The benefit of kindness is not best suited to one group of people and not another. Respect is not the birth right of some and not others.

In the world I have been welcomed as a stranger. A tourist with limited understanding of language and customs I found people kind and respectful even through my clumsy attempts to say thank you or please. Being a stranger in a strange place is one way to find the value of xenodochy.

And once received, should be returned.

Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.

Victor Hugo

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