What exactly does it mean to include people? Inclusion has been a buzz word for the last few years, as more people realize that being left out of important matters and decisions is detrimental to their well-being in the long run and have started to advocate not only on their behalf, but in the behalf of those that are not able to do it themselves. Having diversity is important, but without inclusion, it means very little.
Inclusion, according to the dictionary, means that all people- regardless of their abilities, disabilities, color of their skin, or gender identity, have the right to be respected and appreciated as valuable members of their communities. It goes beyond tolerance. It has people visibly involved in the fabric of our lives, in politics, in all levels really. Tolerance talks about accepting, but not necessarily including. I can tolerate the things I don't like, but I'll avoid them as much as I can, relegating them to that part of my mind where all the things I don't understand get stored and forgotten. Tolerance is the first step, but by no means the only one. Tolerance, from experience, feels cold and detached. Tolerance is not enough.
When I moved here, away from everything I knew and loved, I was lucky. I came to a loving family, that received me with open arms, and where I was immediately included. I had no doubts about being part of their fabric, of their day to day living- they made it clear with their actions and behavior. They both adapted to me, and taught me about their own culture as well. I felt supported, appreciated and loved. It wasn't all unicorns and rainbows, but they made sure I knew that they wanted me here, that my input was important. I wish I could say the same about the rest of my life here.
Don't get me wrong, I've met plenty of wonderful friends that are just as inclusive. But I've also met plenty of others that, although cordial and helpful in the surface, had this underlying coldness whenever they talked to me. They were not interested in dealing with me, or get too involved. They made sure I knew how much they disliked my culture, my accent, my voice. They were the ones acting surprised when I could hold up my part of the conversation, the ones that made fun of my country, the ones that would ask me a question they didn't care to hear the answer to. The ones that only addressed me when my then significant other was in the room, and ignored me whenever he was not. I didn't know what North Dakota/Minnesota "nice" was when I moved here, but I learned pretty quickly. I became accustomed to these superficial interactions, learned to not believe people at their word but rather to watch how they behaved. I am glad for the friends that showed me that not everyone would be this cold, because I don't know if I would have wanted to stay otherwise. These people obviously tolerated my presence, as one tolerates the spiders that live on our favorite tree- by pretending that they are not there. The less they get involved with my "kind of people", the better in their mind.
Tolerance was the first step, but we have to go beyond the surface and understand and include others, to truly make them part of our lives. Inclusion means trying to make sure that every person has the same opportunity to be a part of society, no matter where they were born, no matter what religion they profess, no matter what their skin looks like, or even what they can or cannot do. It goes deep, gets dirty, learns about uncomfortable things, adapts to make sure everyone is covered. The way I see it, Tolerance and Inclusion go hand in hand. You must learn to tolerate other's way of living life, even when you don't do the same, when you don't believe the same, when you don't look the same- but you are also called to love, to include, to learn and adapt as well. As Benito Juarez, a wise man from Mexico, once said- "The respect of others' rights brings our peace". We learn from others when we include them in our lives, when we celebrate with them, when we break bread with their families. It's hard to say bad things or think ill of a particular group, when we count some of their members as our friends. Love changes our viewpoint, challenges our biases, makes us better. How much better life would be if everyone felt appreciated and valued as they are, for who they are inside. How much better would people be if they felt included? Only doing so wholeheartedly will answer that question.
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