Being inclusive in our everyday lives challenges us to embrace the whole of our humanity – the ways we are alike and the ways we are different. It is the second part of the paraphrased statement by American writer and poet Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) – “All Human Beings Are Alike, And All Are Different” – that sticks in our craw. Embracing our differences – be they racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, socioeconomic, educational, gender preference, food preferences, hair color, you name it – is difficult for many people to achieve and provides a source of continuing annoyance.
Many people feel threatened and defensive when confronted with any value or belief system different from their own, as if to say, “Challenge my beliefs and you challenge who I am.”
If you wonder why being inclusive is so central to a civil society, that is, what is so important about embracing and valuing our differences, start by considering the alternative – being exclusive. The very words imply private, restricted membership; closed; you are not welcome; you do not belong; you are not one of us.
If you have ever been excluded, snubbed, felt like you did not belong, you well understand how hurtful to others exclusivity is. Being exclusive drastically limits your experience in the world. If you surround yourself only with those who think like you, look like you, act like you, dress like you, eat like you, where is the tension that provides synergy and creativity and growth?
But, hey, don’t most of us like to feel a little exclusive at times, special, that we belong in the world. Are we not entitled to feel good when we belong to a group of likeminded people? Isn’t part of our identity shaped by and within groups and by the company we keep? Isn’t it a good thing to hold strong ideals and values? And particularly as we age, are we to be condemned for finding safety and comfort in predictability and sameness?
Being inclusive does not require you to abandon your values and beliefs or your friends or your groups or your comfort in sameness. What being inclusive requires is to step outside of your self-defined borders, to step out of the way, and simply let in the alternative value, idea, lifestyle. Detaching from your ideas, values, and beliefs does not mean that you no longer hold them; it means only that you have loosened your attachment to them. Once you let go of the attachment to being right, your mind is suddenly more open. You are not compromised or diminished, but rather broadened and expanded as an individual.
This attitude shift from protecting and defending your values and beliefs to letting go of your attachment to them is really all you need to be inclusive toward other people, thoughts, opinions and ideas. You are freed to speak and listen to someone you never liked or to someone who is clearly different from you; you welcome the stranger in your midst; you make sure that no one is excluded at a social gathering; you develop and show interest in other cultures.
Being inclusive means that you do not pick and choose who you respect, but rather that you convey respect to all people.
Susan McAninch is a retired clinical social worker and psychotherapist.
Each month we are highlighting one of the nine principles of the Door County Civility Project. This month Door County Civility Project team member Susan McAninch writes about Principle No. 3: Be Inclusive. For more on the project or to sign the Civility Pledge, visit doorcountycivilityproject.org.
Have you witnessed a Random Act of Civility? Let us know about it at [email protected].