I was asked to share my thoughts in writing to describe what inclusion means to me. These thoughts came from my own life experience and from the recent inspiration of discussing this topic in the past few weeks at home and work. So here goes…
Being different is not a choice. We often forget about this as we go through our day or our life until something happens that causes us to feel it. Being different can feel good and sometimes feel really bad. It all depends on whether we are accepted for this difference.
Think back at your earliest age when you understood what different meant, what it looked like, how it felt. If we today reflect for a minute, we are all very different, and have to remind ourselves of this. We can come from the same country, religion, gender, family and be different and have generalizations casted upon us and cast them upon others without deliberate thought. Further, we sometimes even cast them on ourselves and internalize them, the good and bad.
We go through life, like breathing seeing difference. It helps us navigate life. But like anything if not with consciousness it can lead to unintended consequences. We go through life often gravitating unconsciously and sometimes consciously to those like us. Why is it that? It provides great safety, sometimes ease, speed, a sense of belonging. This is part of being human. Also part of being human is Bias. It’s ever present and “unavoidable” and human. It affects our choices and behaviour. And, like any habit, we can set an intention and choose to see different and include.
Inclusion is not about avoiding diversity, difference or being agreeable. It’s not about “fluff” or being “soft” and going with the flow. It’s more about creating a space of safety for you and others to be seen, heard and accepted. Inclusion creates a space for difference to have its voice heard in our relationships, our family, community, at work, in the world. It’s actually about looking at difference with curiosity. Treating people not as you wanted to be treated but as they want to be treated and vice versa.
Exclusion on the other hand separates, it inhibits, limits, shuts down, sometimes oppresses, even suffocates. To be excluded is one of the top five fears that we as humans have. It instils fear by its very nature and can create tremendous anxiety and can lead to conflict. Exclusion is not just harmful to the person, it’s harmful to relationships, families, profit and non-profit organizations and societies. We lose out on who that person is and what that person who is different from us (be it their perspective, their idea, their culture, their age) has to offer. We lose out on what we can learn and on what they/we together can contribute, build, inspire and live.
Imagine a relationship, a family, a workplace, a community, a world if we included. It would be safe, peaceful, inspiring, fun and we would want to belong.
Diversity is the presence of difference. Inclusion is a choice. Inclusion gives everyone a voice.