By Teresa González
I was recently facilitating an ice breaker activity and asked the attendees to think about a time in their lives when they had experienced inclusion. They would then pair with someone else to discuss the event and share their feelings. There was silence for a moment, but then conversations started to flow. The room was suddenly filled with positive energy; there were initial looks of sympathy and understanding, then there were smiles. There was reciprocity. When volunteers shared with the larger group, the consensus was that everyone had felt welcome, accepted, considered, valued; with just one action, everyone had felt a sense of belonging. If everyone understands the feeling and has been touched by experiencing inclusion, could it be acknowledged as a core societal or even a universal value?
A value is commonly defined as a personal principle or standard of behavior; something that people hold as important and serves as a compass for behavior. It is even said that when our values are clear, making decisions becomes easier. Societal values, such as respect for human dignity or the idea of democracy, are those which provide guidelines for social conduct. Shouldn’t inclusion be considered as one? How are social values defined? Are they culturally accepted because of established norms, or do they exist as a consequence of social constructs or normalizing behaviors? Do they change over time?
What if inclusion was a universal value, and as such, the notion of including everyone was considered important and guided our everyday actions and decisions? We would not see the child who spends recess alone, quietly wishing someone would play with him. We wouldn’t find a young teenager sobbing in the bathroom after being banned from her group of friends. We wouldn’t hear about the international parent who is not able to interact in a chat where everyone is communicating in a different language. There would not be bullying, exclusion or discrimination because of diverse beliefs, race, preferences, appearances, or even status. There would be equity. The world would be a different place; a place where everyone would feel safe at all times. Like in the ice breaker experience, everyone would feel welcome, accepted, considered, and valued for who they are. It would be so enriching. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”
Every time I see high school students engaged in passionate discussions to ensure gender equality, from our school dress code to the real world; every time I witness the commitment of middle school ambassadors to integrating new students; every time I walk by the preschool playground and rejoice at how inclusive young children naturally are; every time I come across a boy or a girl who addresses the maintenance staff with dignity and respect, I feel hopeful. Let us learn from children, let us learn from the younger generations, let us learn from those who are open-minded and those who demonstrate kindness, compassion and empathy. Let us live inclusion as a core value at home, in school, and everywhere. Let us be agents of change by aligning our values, thoughts, feelings, and actions. As ASFM changes, the world will change, character will be strengthened, and inclusion will become the norm.