Invite Delight: Creating space for conversations that matter

April 5, 2014
By
My oldest girls reading in the library at home in Masaka, Uganda. (The painting now hangs in my USD office.)

My oldest girls reading in the library at home in Masaka, Uganda. (The painting now hangs in my USD office.)

Is the space around you beautiful?

I didn’t ask if it was fancy or expensive or lavish, I asked if it was beautiful.

For example, Ugandans tend to keep their yards swept clean.  Even if the space around the home is mostly dirt, they use the dried fronds of the mukonzkonz (“moo-CONES-cones”) to sweep patterns and order into their humblest of environments.  The result is a sense of dignity that speaks of respect and honor—in unexpected ways.  Inside, any and all family certificates are displayed with pride, alongside a brightly colored soda ad or a photo of Oprah circa 1987 (cut out of the newspaper), and a plaque made of banana tree fiber and barkcloth.

Growing up on the Navajo Nation, I remember that my friends’ homes were almost always decorated with wonderful rugs and textiles.  Every chair, no matter how expensive or modest, was draped in bold colors and patterns.  There was always a fresh aroma of good food—or of fire from the woodstoves—and a sense of calm.  “Come in.  Sit down.  Be.”  The conversations there often started after a long silence, a time of simply being together.

It strikes me that I have spent most of my life in communities that would be considered extremely poor, and yet I reflect on the environments and experiences with an embrace of splendor and magnificence that might surprise those who have lived elsewhere.

Each of us has been given all the tools we need to make even the humblest space pleasant.  Sometimes this is accomplished through order and cleanliness, other times it is created through disorder and an exquisite, free-spirited nature.   Much like art, some works are precise and perfect, others are enchanting messes.  The important thing is that they be seen as beautiful by those who share the space.

I worry that too many people fail to realize the importance of creating beauty.  Our homes and offices need to be spaces for conversations that matter; conversations with each other, with self, and with the Divine.  After we have finished our daily meditations, prayers and devotions, I recommend that we spend a few moments focusing on the creation of beauty.

Wash the dishes, light a candle, have the kids put their toys away.

It’s spring!  Step outside and pluck a simple blossom or leaf.

In Africa, we often don’t use vases, we simply display the greenery or flowers on tables and countertops.  A wonderful Swahili tradition is to take the individual petals of the bougainvillea, and create patterns on bedspreads to welcome guests or to simply brighten a room for the day.   They have proven that it takes only a few moments and a handful of flower petals to invite delight.

A brightened room leads to brightened spirits—and from there, the conversations that matter spring forth.  Something is opened up by beauty, something we don’t always understand, but that we must learn to recognize.

So, look around you.  Is the space beautiful?  If not, make it so.

If it seems overwhelming, then start with your desk or the tabletop where your computer is resting, or with whatever surface is closest to you.  Whatever is in your line of sight, start there.  Wipe away the dust, display a favorite object, a simple stem from the garden, a photograph of someone you love or admire, a bowl of fruit from the refrigerator, a rock, a tall glass of iced tea, or maybe just a nice, clean surface.

Create beauty.  Invite delight.  And watch what happens.        

4 Responses to Invite Delight: Creating space for conversations that matter

  1. Ina Rae
    April 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Much of the fun I have in creating lovely places around me is that I am not the only one to enjoy it. Each space is a testimony of my daily walk and what I have found to enjoy. Books on the shelf arranged by author can be set upright on piled and held up with a different type of book end and I step back and feel that not only have I enjoyed reading the book but now the way it looks is also a blessing. So many things inside and out are simply a delight to the soul.

  2. Carla
    April 5, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    My house has been completely bare for 4 months, but there is a white sheet on my card table with a bowl of fruit, and “art on the wall” (- a large painting on the fireplace my daughter painted.) There is also a lot of light shining through every window, which is plenty beautiful to me.

    Thank you for all your thoughtful perspectives, and all you do, Nathaniel.

  3. July 11, 2016 at 5:14 am

    I have learnt a lot from you Dad, you know it’s hard in Uganda to appreciate beauty.
    But, again, I have witnessed the aroma, beaut inature when you happen to decorate for events like Christmas, get together parties and the Dining tables for lunch, dinner etc. You have never stopped inspiring me. Thank you Dad.

    • July 11, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Dorah! Thank you for this. Space for discussion is what we need most. Love you, Dad

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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