Oasis is like…
I am having breakfast on the balcony of the apartment of my AirBnb student host in Dresden, Germany. There are some swallows darting around and I notice there must be a nest under the gutter of the apartment opposite. I am reminded of the story of a mathematician who was also observing swallows flying outside the train he was travelling on. It got him thinking- in all their darting about, how do they know which way they are going? Is there a leader? No- it’s all so chaotic! So how could their behaviour be described mathematically? These thoughts led the scientist to make advances in particle (chaos and complexity) theory.
Now I notice a plane flying above the swallows, it’s vapour trail marking its path between airports A and B. It is probably a well travelled route and the planning and execution of each flight guarantees its objectives.
Flights between airports is ‘managed’. The separate services within an airline are coordinated to achieve the best A to B results for its paying customers.
In an institution like a university, much of what we call ‘services’ is like the airline. Different services help ‘clients’ get from A to B; ‘management’ is important for the institution to achieve its own and its students’ A to B goals.
But Oasis is envisioned more like the behaviour of the swallows, seemingly chaotic, yet knowing where the nest is. There are no direct flight paths.
Birds somehow learn how to sing without sheet music. Some human musicians play or sing like birds; they can’t or won’t ‘read music’. Others go through the discipline of training. Yet both benefit from each other in the music community; though I suspect the untrained are more often than not discriminated against. It is fascinating that two musicians can play the same notes of the same music, yet one is playing only notes, while the other is playing with soul. I know which I prefer!
This is a conversation I have with my music student host. She understands implicitly. She is taking Master Classes during her immanent holidays and is committed to mastering the technical challenges of her instrument and revelling in the experience of contributing to the Dresden Opera and other orchestras, as invitations to draw on her musical expertise come in. Yet she loves to improvise. We listen to some of her improvisations and we join together doo daa-ing to one of her recordings!
Oasis is more concerned with soul, the feel of things, the intangibles that make all the difference to the quality of the experience. Oasis complements the managed services of the university. It is not a service as such to be managed. Nor does it try to do what other services are doing. It plays indiscrimatory like the swallows, improvising to contribute, inspiring others to soar in their own way. There is a ‘science’ to spirituality, but it can never be tied down.
In my book An Improbable Feast I compare traditional hospitality with today’s hospitality industry. It is interesting to see how this is being played out as I choose to use AirBnB – the potential sharing economy version of the hotel.
My host in Dresden is a music student with a spare room who has recently begun hosting. Her reason is to get a little cash on the side to help pay her way through Uni. As we sit on her tiny balcony sipping tea and coffee, she tells me about a couple who came and were appalled at her conditions. So she suggested that if they did not want to have the AirBnB experience, they should go to a hotel – which they did!
What is the AirBnB experience? For her it was what we were doing right there and then, sharing our lives and experiences. The focus is on the hospitality rather than the conditions. The conditions take care of themselves when true hospitality is offered. My offer to take her to dinner to celebrate finishing an exam is matched by her choosing a good restaurant and taking me to an incredible evening of music with her music friends at the Jazz Club. It doesn’t matter to me that there is a nail holding a power lead to the wall plug in the kitchen, or that her tiny plastic kettle has no on-off switch, or that the bathroom drains are showing all the signs of blocking up pretty soon! She is offering me what she has, not what she hasn’t! Going about our own lives, we open space to each other, to enrich each other’s lives.
But even at this early stage of AirBnB the signs of the power of consumerism and the corrosive power of the spirit of unfettered economic gain is taking hold. In Amsterdam they have had to legislate to control the wealthy from buying up apartments as sources of AirBnB income that is depriving rental housing in the city centre. The unscrupulous always seem to find a way to screw up a good idea and make life difficult for everyone!
Need I say that Oasis has always chosen to avoid any commercial aspect to its operation on the grounds of accessibility to all, regardless of financial situation. And like the generous, hospitable experiences many of us have experienced when visiting the poor, Oasis aims to enrich the lives of its visitors by sharing what we have with each other, together, particularly the spirituality of our common humanity.
Traditional hospitality is likely to always pose first world problems and be subverted by materialists who are either ignorant or prejudiced with regard to the primacy of the spiritual for human sustainability, or fall for the myth of protectionism, putting up fences and charging admission using the pretext of controlling imagined risks.