Inclusiveness – A two-way street

“Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so than you can do your best work.”

Miller and Katz (2002)

When I was a university first year things were different. I had a problem, and that problem was that I was gay. That I was female. That I was over weight.

I wanted to be a part of “society”, of the natural social manifestation of inclusion that friendship and bonding generates, but my problem was that I might not fit the perfect picture of an individual that a group I want inclusion in might want to know.

So, do I change myself? Or do I demand that the group change to include me?

This question occurs over and over and over again. There are a range of reasons that an individual might feel ostracised from their community- they’re “socially awkward”, smart, stupid, beautiful, ugly, fat, thin, tall or short. Or, they’re ethnically diverse, disabled physically and/or mentally, gender variant, ESL or NESB, new to school, too old, too young, too political or not political enough.

“Questions of social fairness (or equity), manifest as equality, are permanently part of higher education. They arise in every country in the world. They are as integral as (and as problematic as) the other main theme of education policy, which is the role of education in economic futures. They speak to something primary in our culture, the idea of equality of respect for all persons. Beginning in the late eighteenth century with the French and American revolutions, equality of respect has moved to the core of human society. It is one of the marks of modernity. It commands universal support. The ultimate preoccupation of our culture, rightly I think, is with freedom, with human agency with an expressive, self-determining individuality. We all understand freedom as a universal right.”

I feel that inclusiveness is a very worthy cause. I advocate it constantly. The need that the groups I’m involved in have to remain open and aware of our constituents and promote inclusiveness is what we ARE.

But I also want to point out that inclusiveness needs to go BOTH ways.

A group can ask its members to include someone. This means that they use inclusive language, are receptive to another’s complaints, are interested in variant lifestyles and find ways to engage a person. But if the person they are trying to engage is obsessed with their differences, this effort is NEVER going to work.

It becomes a dialogue where the person is constantly picking apart the words and their meanings for the moment when the group excludes them. A person who comes into a group screaming “I’m different!” is never going to feel like they belong. Groups are not made on differences! They’re built by similarities and shared values and common goals.

I know this. When I was growing up I was obsessed with a sense of being an outsider. I didn’t feel like I ever fit in with a group- I was fat, yes, but I was also that (oh-so-charmingly over used) phrase- socially awkward. And I was angry about it! I WANTED to be angry about it! I want to sit with a group, show them how different I was, and ask them why they weren’t interested in being my friend.

And this- surprise, surprise- didn’t get me any friends.

If you have a shock jock personality, where your one goal is to say the most outrageous thing, how can you be surprised when people are outraged? If you want to join a group of blondes, whose sole base of relation is that they are blonde, why would you be surprised if they rejected you because you’re a brunette?

In something like the GLBTIQ community, or a rights advocacy group, or even in a friendship group full of “outsiders”, where you expect inclusiveness to be the major goal, I guess there is an assumption that if you’re an extreme example of difference you will be included none-the-less. But this, by simple understanding of human nature, isn’t always the truth.

Yes, I think that you have a right (and in a perfect world it wouldn’t be a right, it would just be) to be included. But I also think you have a responsibility to try and assist others with their task to be inclusive. You can’t just claim social awkwardness- you need to make an effort to relate. If you’re too shy to talk, why would people feel like it was worth their while to talk to you? Open your mouth and say the words you’re thinking! Question why you feel awkward. Is there even a reason? Is it because you feel that the other person might feel bored/angry/judgemental towards you? Why do you even care what they think?

I’ve changed a lot since I came to university. But I haven’t changed those things I thought were “problems”. I’m still female, still fat and still gay.

What I changed was how I thought about this, and how I expressed it on myself. I dress better, I talk more, I smile a hell of a lot more (even when I don’t want to), I don’t complain as much and I look for interests in others that I can relate to.

In fact, the most useful thing I ever did was start to cultivate interesting facts abut myself, and memorise similar facts in others. So now people WANT to know me rather than want to know ABOUT me to bitch with each other.

In doing this I realised a very important fact about the world. I can be different- but then I have to accept the reality that I AM different, so I will have trouble fitting in. Or I can fit in, and accept the fact I can never be myself.

Or I can do both. Be different, be as different as you like- but try a bit harder. Try to relate to others, understand their nuances, create conversations and wear different hats for different situations.

Now I have a whole community that I enjoy inclusiveness from- but if I hadn’t made that effort, to change the group AS WELL as myself, I’d not be here right now.

By Danielle K. Day


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