It depends where you are right now in your life and what you've experienced so far in order to become aware of how relationships really work.
Today I want to tell you a story about how some experiences in my youth made me aware of the importance of inclusion.
I was about 13 or 14 years old. During weekends or after school I loved to spend time in our garden, helping my parents to keep it tidy. Sometimes, I even went there on my own, enjoying being in nature and recharging my batteries. Walking back home one late afternoon, I took a different route which was on the other side of our garden valley. I passed some bigger garden houses, a huge field, and then there was this big group of teenagers. Damn it, I thought. Probably, I already started to signalise my fear with my body language. I had to pass them or turn around which meant an additional 20 minutes walk. Turning around would be acting like a coward. I wanted to go home that route and not turn around. They spotted me when I came closer. I tried to look cool and pass them nonchalantly. Well, that didn't really work out. They started to call me names and threatened me with their words. I kept walking, now a bit quicker of course, and hoped to pass them without them approaching me closer. Then one threw a stone at me. Honestly, how mad must you be to throw a big stone at a small girl, walking alone and unprotected? Kids are so cruel, especially when in a huge group. I didn't get hurt, thanks god, but as you can see have I never forgotten that moment and how it made me feel. I was the same age as most of those teenagers. And looking back at that scene it made me feel excluded from their world. I wasn't welcome. I wasn't even welcome to cross their path.
This is not the only story of this kind. I had boys spitting at me on my way back home from school. Another girl took me aside where no one could see us and threatened me without any reason whilst my best friend stood close by, watching the scene without defending me. At school boys screamed my surname through the corridors in a really weird way when I passed them and that made me feel so uncomfortable. Another girl called me crazy because I had too much fantasy ... and so on. Believe me, I was upset and confused. I felt really excluded from the world of my own peers and not part of any teenager's clique around me. Consequently, I turned more inside and spent more time in my own little world. I had plenty of time for hobbies and my family. I was so happy to get back home after school, you can't imagine. I didn't feel I belong to a group. But I had my family and my hobbies which were giving me the feeling of belonging and support.
Why am I telling you all this?
I didn't feel good and I became insecure about myself because those people around me gave me the feeling I was the awkward, the one who didn't fit in, and the one who's not allowed to join the club because I was not cool enough. Luckily, something good happened inside of me though. Step by step, I became stronger. I learned that the opinion of others should not matter how I feel about myself. I had the choice between being upset forever or focusing on the good things in my life. And it taught me to be patient with people. They were just kids and one day they will be grown ups and stop doing these silly things to others.
Another take away from that time is that I've learned to identify myself easier with outcasts. It taught me to look at someone properly before judging him or her. Back then I've decided to look at people myself and avoid taking on the opinion from someone about someone else, especially not a negative one. It took me a couple of years to really get over these experiences. And one friend I found quite late at school helped me doing this by literally taking my hand and showing me another world. She pushed me further and gave me back a lot of confidence. That friend's name is Jana.
However, I can't claim to be perfect at including a lot of diverse people in my circles. But I've been made conscious about how it feels to be excluded. There is another lesson I've learned during that time. The source of my happiness is me. Feeling content is my job. I should never use others as a source of my happiness. I know that's easier said than put in practise because society teaches us the opposite, right? The talk of Sadhguru I was listening to lately therefore resonated a lot with me. This Indian guru asked why are we fundamentally seeking relationships? Because we want to be happy and joyful. We try to use others as a source of happiness but happiness is then no "self-start". I believe he's right by saying that being happy by my own nature will make my relationships more beautiful. Otherwise they will be painful, or end painfully. I must admit that I had these painful experiences and I'm sure you had those, too. So I agree, forming relationships is to express happiness and joy. It is to include someone but not to seek the happiness from this someone.
So what happens with our relationships at work? I once visited a friend who at that time used to live in Italy. He worked in a leadership team for a global company. Over a pizza and lovely red wine, he told me that work is 100% about relationships. It's all about psychology. That was 10 years ago and I remember that moment well because it's been an aha-moment for me. Before that conversation, I had never looked at work relationships that way but it made totally sense to me. Now that I'm working in the field of leadership consulting I'm more knowledgeable about all that and am constantly learning about the dynamics of relationships. The industry of leadership is a non-stop moving one that explores new perspectives and angles in order to share best practices based on the latest research results and outcomes.
Something that's been put into the centre of attention again is the importance of diversity and inclusion. Coming back to Sadhguru, he said that we've learned how to "manage" people. We've been taught how to even manage our partners, lovers, friends etc. instead of including them. So what he is saying about our private relationships can be applied to our working relationships as well. Don't you think?
What does it mean to "manage" someone in a relationship? According to Sadhguru it means that you expect the other person to become like you. You want them to be a version of yourself. This is due to the expectations we have deeply inside of us. Companies also expect us to become the co-worker they want to see in us. They hire mind-liked people who fit into the culture, right? And to be honest, if I were to hire a person I would probably do the same. It's called unconscious bias. What we are missing out is to use the opportunity to unleash talent hidden in people who are different to us.
One of my colleague wrote a blog with the title "A Gender-Diverse and Inclusive Culture: It's a Symphony, Not Solos" and is motivating us to embrace differences and not looking for another version of ourselves. Why? Because we really benefit from different perspectives and approaches, for example when it comes to solving complex problems. Different people have different needs that need to be addressed by companies, for sure. Those needs should not be ignored or changed (= managed). Can we become more objective and fair when hiring and working with new people? Can we truly develop an inclusive mindset? Can we identify, recognise and change our barriers in our heads?
It's not all conscious, I agree. There are a lot of unconscious bias we need to work through. Coming back to our private relationships, I personally don't want a man or anyone meeting me and thinking, oh she's a woman, she wants to "change" me, better to avoid her. I want him to look at me and see a human being who accepts him like he is. I don't want to squeeze him into a box, limiting him and not allowing to express his different personal facets. It's a liberating feeling to say that. And it makes me smile. We are all different and instead of trying to find and making someone a version of ourselves, it's more exciting and fun to include a diverse soul in our life and learn from and with him or her. We can do that! At home and at work. Let's embrace this diversity. Let's embrace that we all are not the same and still find to each other. We do find the right person to work or to live with, we do find exciting people to create beautiful moments and outcomes. Let's shift our mindset and enjoy it.
Want to be more inclusive? Here are some questions that can help:
- Do you easily take on judgments and opinions about someone from someone else?
- Do you let new people into your inner circle?
- Do you have much younger and much older friends?
- Do you surround yourself with people only from your cultural background?
- Do you have close friends of your opposite sex?