As a child, I remember being on the playground at school, and at some point or another, chanting in the middle of a petty 1st grade rivalry “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. Well, since then, science has proven us wrong. We’ve been privy to the fact that use of language makes or breaks our psyche, and even changes the molecular structure of water. We’ve better understood the mechanics of neurolinguistic programming, and affirmations, but apart from all of these very obvious ways to influence our brains for better or for worse, there are much subtler forces at work, and these are… *gasp*.. wait for it… our day to day interactions.
There has been much debate about inclusion lately, but most inclusion initiatives are what I’d like to call ‘Active Inclusion Initiatives”. Meaning, there is increasingly an overt and blatant mandate to be inclusive, a process developed to enforce inclusion, and a methodology often applied to hold us to making sure we are being as inclusive as possible- usually in the workplace, and usually at the time of hiring or selection. But what happens outside of that process? We go back to our norms. Our usual ways of affiliating and interacting with those who are most like us. After all, as much as many of us hate routine (myself included) we are at the end of the day, creatures of habit. Many of us, in actuality, have no idea what to do differently to ensure that our routine behaviour and thought patterns are actually questioned and proactively re-engineered in order to actually bring forth change. Many of us don’t question our motivations for why we support those that we do; Why we reach out to and interact with those that we do; Why our motivations, likes, dislikes, beliefs, and hurdles are as they are. That’s only half of it. The other half of this discrepancy in moving the needle on inclusiveness, is the fact that we understand very little about the opposite end of the spectrum: Exclusion.
How often are we selective about who we share our ideas with? Do we take the time to actively get to know the ideas of the quietest person in a group when we’re in a meeting or a discussion? How often do we casually leave someone off of a CC, even if they could benefit from the sharing of information? Who do you rely on in the workplace to get information through the grapevine? How easy is it to remember to include colleagues we are socially inclined towards in meetings, or projects? Sit with that for a moment. Contemplate. Be honest with yourself, and if you’ve managed to honestly say that you consciously aim to avoid exclusive behaviour, then bravo.
The majority of us, however, never actually left the playground rivalries behind and many of us take them with us into adulthood. Often, without even realizing that we’ve been exclusive with the way we interact with others daily- simply because being inclusive is just not a habit we’re accustomed to. Here’s a great reason to rewire ourselves into being inclusive in our day to day interactions:
Exclusion = Physical Pain
In fact, several neuroscience research studies have highlighted that according to fMRI scans, the mental activity that occurs when one is being excluded in even the most minor forms (from being left out of the loop on information, to being openly rejected), looks a lot like the mental activity occurring when the body experiences physical pain.
On some level, we all go through rejection, and the turbulence of being excluded at some point in our lives or another. Even those with perceived privilege might feel oppressed by acts of active inclusion and equity. One might see the bright side: that it builds resilience, pushes some of us to try a little harder. But truthfully, it gets discouraging. Sometimes to the point where we seek out other solutions – perhaps a steep dive into entrepreneurship for lack of senior level corporate opportunity, or much worse- substance abuse to subconsciously numb the invisible pain, as other studies (which I’m admittedly horrible at referencing but will point you to the work of Jodi Gilman, PhD, of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine) highlight that young marijuana users who experience social isolation are more likely to develop addictions because the marijuana usage actually inhibits the activity in the same part of the brain registering the pain of social isolation and exclusion.
The reality is inclusion isn’t difficult to practice daily. It comes down to proactively using inclusive language (which is a whole other post on it’s own), choosing how and who to communicate with/to in a way than is different from what we might typically choose, and consciously ensuring we don’t leave people out of the loop. It means asking better questions to get better answers. It means soliciting involvement and ideas from everyone around the table at the next meeting. It means inviting people to the table that normally wouldn’t be there. It means getting to know someone you normally wouldn’t gravitate towards and actively seeking out the differences to celebrate, instead of the similarities. And once we can do this authentically, out of having developed new habits and challenged our own biases, rather than out of mandate, protocol, or process- only then, can we consider ourselves ‘inclusive’.