In order to compete more successfully in business, we must draw upon the skills and experience of a diverse workforce. In order to restore harmony to our communities, we must honor the dignity of all people. In order for true learning to return to our classrooms, we must recognize and value the differences of all students.
It would be difficult to find anyone who truly objects to those statements, yet we find ourselves at odds with one another when it comes to welcoming, valuing and acting upon ideas or experiences that differ from our own.
At risk of being a hammer seeing everything as a nail, I believe part of the reason is we lack confidence in our own abilities, worth and opportunity. Let me explain.
In workshop after workshop, inside businesses, with community groups, and among educators, I see varying levels of suspicion and fear holding back people who truly want to stretch themselves to grow. Where does this suspicion and fear come from? There are many sources: A competitive society. Restrictive organizational structures. Negative past experience. Power concentrated in the hands of a few. Fearful messages from elders. A shortage of role models.
Confident people are curious about differences. They recognize that as the world changes, their knowledge will be challenged. Solutions that work in one place do not necessarily work in other places. Consequently, they open doors to welcome and learn from others, while truly valuing their own knowledge, experience and capability to grow.
People who are less confident cling to knowledge they have attained as complete and final. They may create a cocoon or settle into established structures or communities to protect themselves from ideas or people who might threaten their security. This threat to security underlies much of the exclusion we see around us. We fear the unknown. We recoil from the strange. We distrust those we do not know. This is human nature and in a world growing increasingly violent and callous, we are sometimes wise to hesitate. But not always. And in our free society, not usually.
Inclusion is an act of confidence, because it acknowledges human nature and opens a wide door. It recognizes that differences serve to challenge and expand habitual patterns of thought. Yes, it can also challenge our values and for some, that is supremely uncomfortable. Where we can appreciate such differences and keep ourselves properly focused on the future we hope to create, we may succeed in including a growing number of others.
The work begins with you. How willing are you to listen to a point of view or an experience that is different from yours? What assumptions do you use to justify sorting people into those who are like you and those who are not? What security are you seeking to protect?
A competitive society drives everyone to beat someone in order to succeed. While it generates adrenaline and can be great fun for some, it generates fear and sometimes a sense of deficiency and hopelessness for others. We mistakenly try to ameliorate this fear by giving participation medals to all. Nobody is fooled by this and resentment is a predictable outcome.
An alternative way to view your life is to commit to excelling in the things you undertake. To excel is to beat your personal best as you continue to develop and grow. It does not look at others as competitors or threats, but as benchmarks from which to learn.
Do you see the opportunity here? With everyone wanting to be included and few willing or confident enough to welcome them in, you can be a role model. Eschew cliques. Get to know all kinds of people at work, in your community, at your school. It will be uncomfortable – the late psychologist Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates that belonging is a deep psychological need. By growing in knowledge and experience, you can belong to a bigger world. Open your arms and your mind to learning. You may be utterly amazed at what happens to you and the positive impact you can have on your world.
Susan A. Marshall is an author, speaker and the founder of Backbone Institute LLC (www.backboneinstitute.com) which has the tagline “Never grow a wishbone where a backbone ought to be,” and which has a mission to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time. She can be reached at (262) 567-5983 or email@example.com.