Je t’invite

That phrase is one I love, both to use and to hear. Literally, “I invite you,” it’s used between friends (note the “t'” as in “tu” as in “we’re informal like that”) without a “to+infinitive” (so, not followed by something specific like “to come to the beach”)  to mean “hey–this food or beverage you are consuming or will consume in my presence? It’s my treat!” (Thus short for “I invite you to drink hot chocolate/eat a sandwich/whatever” with the lovely implication that an invitation= treating.)

French inviter comes from Latin invitare; English “invite” may have come from either.  1934 isn’t a great help:


Lest we become excited about a possible etymological connection between invitare and vita– like words (with “life” connotations)…it’s not so. The Online Etymology Dictionary offers this: 

invitation (n.) mid-15c., from Latin invitationem (nominative invitatio) “an invitation, incitement, challenge,” noun of action from past participle stem of invitare “invite, treat, entertain,” originally “be pleasant toward,” from in- “toward” (see in- (2)). Second element is obscure; Watkins suggests a suffixed form of root *weie- “to go after something, pursue with vigor,” and a connection to English gain (see venison). Meaning “the spoken or written form in which a person is invited” is from 1610s.

invite (v.) 1530s, a back-formation from invitation, or else from Middle French inviter, from Latin invitare “to invite,” also “to summon, challenge.” As a noun variant of invitation it is attested from 1650s. Related: Invited; inviting

That “weie” they mention is a “Proto-Indo-European” root, properly with a schwa: weiə-. Look here if curious about root and here for PIE.

Ok, so the thing is I use the word “invite” a lot as a facilitator of professional development. I initially picked it up from other EL people; it’s something people new to EL remark on, this habit of using “invite” when giving what would usually be directive directions (“I invite you to turn to page 5 in your journal and reflect on your learning using the notecatcher” instead of the polite-imperative “please turn to…”)

It can be overused; I know because I overuse it. But there is something there that matters a lot to me as a human out in the world with other humans, matters to me in a bigger way than the use of the word in any particular training. Not having had a way to express that has made it amorphous for me, and that amorphousness has made the mattering feel wispy too–an unarticulated principle, grounded in intuition, is more easily questioned if you are, say, prone to excessive self-questioning. 

So when I read the following paragraph today in a very intense little book loaned to me by Shelley Paul (who else?) called “Community: The Structure of Belonging” by Peter Block, I responded physically, the way you do when something is true for you and you didn’t know how true but there it is, and you let forth a wonderful, sloppy sob. It’s from a chapter on “conversations of invitation,” which is meant literally –how we invite each other to gather when we gather to create change. The small section below is just after the one called “The Radical Aspect of Invitation.” A very intense little book, I am telling you. I am enjoying it. 

Invitation as a Way of Being

Invitation is not only a step in bringing people together, it is also a fundamental way of being in community. It manifests the willingness to live in a collaborative way. This means a future can be created without having to force it or sell it or barter for it. When we believe that barter or subtle coercion is necessary, we are operating out of a context of scarcity and self-interest, the core currencies of the economist. Barter or coercion seems necessary when we have little faith in citizens’ desire and capacity to operate out of idealism. The choice for idealism or cynicism is a spiritual stance about the nature of human beings. Cynicism gets justified by naming itself “reality.” 

I love this and have issues with this* and so what: it helps me put words to something I needed words for; not for the sake of words, but so I can act on what the words help me know that I know.

Block uses “invitation” to mean that which you can refuse with no consequences, which I think corresponds to a piece of definition 3 in 1934 above: “to give an opening to.” This is what I want my language to do: to draw a big door on the wall, like in Beetlejuice, that people can consciously choose to go through, or not. (And get attacked by sand worms! Or just reflect on their learning targets. Or both! Je t’invite.)

*I actually like Parker Palmer’s disavowal of that choice–that idealism and cynicism are not our only options, that we can live in the “tragic gap” between what is ideal and what is accomplishable by us; also, I’m not anti-economist (hi, Dad!), though this does help me explain why Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” drove me crazy.  

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