What it Means to be 'The Hospitality State'

Mississippi is historically known for a progressively delayed (and often stalled) civil rights legacy. In the minds of some throughout the U.S., the state's name will be forever linked to the opposition and violence that occurred in Mississippi in the 1960s -- opposition and violence that resulted when fellow Mississippians stood firm, demanding the basic, inalienable right of equality, affirming that all men (and women) are created equal and have the right to be treated as such.

Mississippi is also historically known for many good things, some of which include generosity, a rich literary and artistic history, and the notion that we are "The Hospitality State."

In light of Governor Phil Bryant's decision to sign House Bill 1523 (authored by Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton) -- a bill that would allow Mississippi business and government workers to deny services to any citizen based on their religious beliefs -- (essentially anyone they choose not to serve for any "religious" reason) -- it might be wise to reexamine what it means to be "The Hospitality State."

Should hospitality only be extended to those of whom we approve? Is equality still only reserved for specific Mississippians? Should we accept the way that others in the U.S. have viewed Mississippi and officially change the nickname from "The Hospitality State" to "The Hostility State," as some have joked in online forums?

Instead, what if we did something different?

What if, as "The Hospitality State," Mississippians truly embraced and made a collective effort to embody that word, and do such a fine job at it that they set a standard for all other states in the nation?

What if the idea of "The Hospitality State" took on a whole new, progressive, inclusive meaning, and in the process, Mississippians taught the world how to better treat and love others -- others who may be different than them?

What if "hospitality" was just another word for "love thy neighbor" and a one-word concept for the Golden Rule? That might have been the original idea behind the nickname.

The definition of hospitality means: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.

Synonyms: friendliness, warm reception, welcome, helpfulness, neighborliness, warmth, kindness, congeniality, geniality, cordiality, courtesy, amenability, generosity, entertainment, catering. Relating to or denoting the business of housing or entertaining visitors.

The definition of hospitality refers to "the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers."

Notable French scholar Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt described hospitality as "the virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity."

As Mississippians, we are better than House Bill 1523.

It's time to reevaluate inherited ideologies and begin making a conscious effort to turn our biggest weaknesses as a state into our greatest strengths. And it's also important that we refuse to let others in the state turn some of our greatest strengths into our biggest weaknesses.

Note: This column originally appeared April 6 in The Oxford EAGLE.