Inclusion recognizes that major societal conflicts, imbalances and injustices are not situations that can be resolved by catering just to the “majority”; all relevant perspectives have to be considered to solve societal problems. In this context, inclusion acknowledges that societal inequities affect different people unequally, based on race, age, culture, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education level, and other factors. Even though these inequities are meted out unequally, the consequences are felt by all segments of society.
When we adopt this definition of inclusion, we can immediately see how enacting laws, policies and social norms based only on the “majority” group would result in even greater inequity, and greater imbalance, and, can subsequently cause an increase in the number of inter-group conflicts. This is because the combined effect of the unaddressed needs of the minority groups would far outweigh the majority group’s needs. In order to truly reconcile past grievances and create a healthy infrastructure for the future, it is therefore imperative to incorporate the practice of inclusion in as many aspects of life as we can.
The idea of full inclusion may sound like an impossible dream, or a purely academic theoretical fantasy to some people, but, it is actually a reasonable, scientifically sound, and achievable goal, albeit a difficult one. It is hard because our brains are wired to take the easy way out — they are cognitive misers— which usually makes our assumptions about other people and their lives, inaccurate in the long run.
Even so, it is possible for us to train our brains to cut the negative effects of this automatic categorization process in our lives. This involves practicing inclusion. It entails a self-perpetuated training towards a deeper understanding of what diversity of thought means. It expands our mental boundaries in several ways:
INCLUSION NECESSITATES EMPATHY.
Empathy is the ability to understand any situation from another person’s perspective, the ability to feel what the other person is feeling in the situation, and the conscious desire to help the other person if needed. It is a trait that has made the survival and reproductive success of humans possible.
Increasing empathy in leaders has been shown to be associated with increased cooperation, collaboration and communication, and decreased hostility and prejudice in multi-cultural teams. A move to actively practice inclusion enables us to rebuild our empathy on a societal level. It allows us to realize that we are more similar to each other than different — a step that is critical to address and enforce practical solutions toward equality and equity.
As responsible leaders and humans, we need to incorporate this empathetic perspective into our own lives and the lives of those around us. By actively training ourselves to be more inclusive, we can provide and implement sustainable solutions and directions for equality and equity.
INCLUSION REDUCES ATTRIBUTION BIASES AND ERRORS.
It goes without saying that all of ustry to make sense of all the social interactions we have for the sake of our lives and sanity. When we have to judge our own or other people’s behaviors, we tend to systematically over- or under-use the information that is available to us. This is an attribution bias. There are many different types of attribution biases that we use to make judgments about behaviors in the course of our daily lives. These judgments are dependent on whether we are judging ourselves, someone we consider one of “our own” (an in-group member), or “others” (an out-group member). The judgments we make are also dependent on the locus of causality – how much we think the causes of a situation are because of internal factors (a person’s personality, preparation, determination, character) or external factors (luck, weather, God, things outside of human control).
Generally, we tend to think that our successes and our in-group’s successes happen because of our internal makeup, whereas failures happen due to circumstances outside of our control. This gets reversed when we judge anyone we consider as “outsiders”. When something good happens to us, it is because we deserve it; when something bad happens to us, it is because we have rotten luck or because life is unfair. But, when something good happens to people that we don’t like, we usually think it is because they had a stroke of luck, yet, when something bad happens to them, we think its Karma, or the Universe doling out a healthy scoop of justice because they are bad people.
Practicing inclusion creates a more balanced perspective for judgment because it allows us to consider the validity and truth behind other people’s experiences. We can then see the causes of their behaviors more accurately, because we can personally relate to them. The more we relate to another person, and the more we identify with them, the more likely we are to support them. In this way, we blur the lines in the “us” versus “them” false dichotomy that we live in. The problems and potential global catastrophes that we are currently experiencing all over the world are proof that we need to erase or at least reduce this “us versus them” mentality. This divisive mentality is no longer working for us; that much is beyond evident. We need inclusion to work together to tackle problems that affect all of us unequally.
INCLUSION DECREASES VIOLENCE WITHIN AND BETWEEN RACIAL GROUPS.
One of the universal human “truths” that we discovered early in the twentieth century was that violence and aggression lead to more violence and aggression. In 1961, psychologist Albert Bandura showed us that children who are exposed to violence begin to accept violence and use violence as a response to conflict. For the past few decades, research that has focused on the effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior has revealed the same trend: Violence always leads to more violence. Recent studies have even shown evidence of significantly increased likelihoods of mood disorders and other psychological disorders among people who are exposed to violence regularly. So we know that violence is not a practical solution to societal problems in any sphere of life.
By acknowledging the similarities between others and ourselves, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, we become less provocative, less reactive, and more proactive about solving our problems. Being inclusive allows us to think more coherently, and pursue non-violent solutions. It reduces violent or aggressive responses to human mistakes, since we will be able to see our humanity reflected in other people.
Many leaders in our past, like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, have quite effectively and successfully used “human-ness”, empathy and solidarity to make tremendous positive changes in their communities. Their strategies to demand inclusion were based on non-violence, empathy and compassion, and have left a greater legacy than the aggressive responses and reactions of militant activists and groups. Inclusion allows us to take violence and oppression off the table. When we remove violence and oppression as a viable option from every situation, we open up many possibilities of real discourse and progress in the realm of human equality.
INCLUSION DEVELOPS OUR SENSE OF SELF-AWARENESS, ALLOWING US TO MASTER BOTH OUR RATIONAL, AND OUR EMOTIONAL THOUGHTS.
Ancient philosophies devoted a considerable amount of discussion to the importance of mastering emotions. New Age off-shoots and leaders have brought its importance back into the spotlight. Science and business research have also made the mastery of emotions the focus of considerable amount of energy and funds. The Harvard Business Review recently even touted it as the MOST important characteristic for a leader to have. When we master our own emotions, we have complete control over our behaviors in any situation, regardless of its volatility. This mastery allows us to combat hate. It lets us be proactive in changing our lives. It elevates us all into leaders capable of influence and real change.
This entire process is possible due to two underlying components:
- the universality of human emotions, and,
- emotional contagion.
Dr. Paul Ekman– the leading expert on emotions and emotional expression – found that while people experience and express an emotion, say “happiness” for different reasons, the emotion of happiness is cross-culturally universal. In other words, an American man may whoop in joy, an Asian woman may hide behind her smile, and a religious person may bow his or her head down in prayer, but most of us know exactly what happiness feels like because we have experienced it ourselves and can relate to that feeling.
As humans, we can identify basic emotions in other humans, based on their facial expressions, with startling accuracy. These emotions are then transferred between people, affecting our subjective individual moods, in a process called emotional contagion. This is why sad negative people drain our energy, why we love being around our happy, busy, energetic friends who always somehow make us feel better, why violence leads to more violence, and ultimately why inclusion is necessary.
When we include other people’s opinions and thoughts, we are able to recognize the emotions behind them. The recognition eventually transfers to us, so that we are able to feel what they feel.
In order to be able to solve the fundamentally existential problems that we are currently facing as Americans, we have to first recognize and understand the flaws, disparities and injustices in our communities are before they can be addressed. Emotional mastery gives us the ability to do this without outbursts. It minimizes the internal conflict and cognitive dissonance – that inner voice that scolds us for even considering an “obviously wrong opinion”, and keeps cutting other thoughts off making it impossible to actually think. Unless we master our emotions and embrace inclusion, important issues such as equality will continue to toss in the stormy seas of our emotions and our differences, until they just get swept away without resolution.
While we have admittedly focused more on diversity in the past decade, we are not going to be able to implement solutions based on diversity alone; diversity categories by themselves create divisions and “us versus them” mentalities. The meaning of diversity has expanded enormously over the past century, but, many of the initiatives and policies that now govern us do not reflect actual inclusion.
Ultimately, inclusion is the only practical solution that we have to address social and societal disparities in ways that are effective, efficient, and, truly sustainable. The inequities prevalent in almost all aspects of American life today are very real human problems. They impact all of us. This is why inclusion is critical – now more so than ever!