As we approach a new school year and the season of sports, extra-curriculars and clubs. I wanted to talk about something that is so important for both parents and kids as they begin to participate in new social settings. A conversation of healthy interactions and starting the year with a fresh mindset.
Inclusion: the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.
Why is the concept of including people, despite their differences something that we as a culture seem to have so much difficulty with? Global companies are spending millions on training and resources to create a culture shift within their own organizations. We weren’t born this way. In fact, I would argue, that for several years we don’t have any problem with this simple concept.
If you look back into your own childhood, or even observe young children interacting, very rarely do you see a moment where gender, race or sexual orientation is creating conflict.
These titles and categories of who people are do not impact the decisions a pre-school child will make. To them it’s the toy, who’s turn it is, or what’s “fair” that are at the forefront of getting along. It is not until outside influences start to show these differences and begin to rank them based on a perceived notion of what they mean. Whether it be older siblings, friends, coaches, teachers or parents doesn’t matter, the people surrounding you, influence you. Intentionally or unintentionally, it’s the reality for young and old alike. If you were raised to believe that certain people are different. If you were influenced to change your behaviors based on a person’s lifestyle, gender or race – then is it even possible to make a change now in your culture? No, and it’s another concept young people understand better than we do.
A quick story to share with you.
We have a team of elite Novice hockey players, all drafted or recruited to play on the team. The first thing to note here, you have a group of 7 and 8-year-old athletes that fancy themselves all-stars, needless to say the level of ego and confidence is high. This could be a culture right off the hop that is a bit toxic to accepting differences, right? How do you perceive a group of Jocks? One of the players drafted, a girl. Many male athletes who tried out did not make this team, she was of her own right just as talented and able as any of the other team members. The coaches made efforts to try and teach the young males respect, so instead of the traditional way of entering the ice for a game, the goalie first, they explained “ladies first”. Now, despite good intentions, did this further ostracize the female or did it demonstrate inclusion? Debatable, but that is not the point of this story. Over the course of the season, a group of the male athletes began to say that she was not welcome on the team. That she was the last one drafted and didn’t belong with them. These claims were all unfounded of course, but were highly impactful to the girl.
It all reached a head when the team was playing in a hotel pool and a couple of the boys told her that they didn’t want a girl on the team and she didn’t belong. Naturally this upset the girl so she went got out of the pool, crying. Mom and dad tried to reassure her and invite her to come back and play. Telling her to just ignore the mean boys. Was this an example of inclusion? Or was it demonstrating a way to avoid and sweep the issue under the rug? Then another boy noticed she was upset. He approached her to see what happened. After hearing her story, he not only told her that she was an important member of the team BUT he called over other teammates, sharing the same sentiments. None of these other boys would have approached her, but when one boy did, the rest of the team followed. Now the majority of the team supported her and made her feel welcome. It was the few that treated her poorly who were now excluded.
When I think about this situation, it’s in my opinion that both the coaches and the parents did not demonstrate inclusion, or at least not very well. It was the young boy who made a much smaller gesture, but the impact was much bigger. He did not sweep the issue under the rug, He did not excuse the issue or make some drastic change to highlight her differences even further. He treated her like a team mate that was upset and then his colleagues followed suit. He created an environment of inclusion within 5 minutes, and with very little effort. In his eyes, he saw a team mate, not a boy or a girl, just a hockey player that was treated badly by team mates. He then comforted her by emphasizing her unique skills and why she was needed on the team for their future success. Simple… that is inclusion.
We don’t have to claim to understand diversity in people.
We don’t have to overthink what it means to include everyone equally, without judgement. The point of inclusion is simple… everyone is here on their own merit. With their own skill set and background. It’s up to us to allow these differences to enhance ourselves and those around us. But also to stop people who diminish a safe and accepting environment. When you do that, others will follow suit.
Back to school is an exciting time for families, but often creates nervousness within our kids as change approaches. Just as much as they enter new social situations, we as parents do as well. If we all take a small moment to talk together and self-reflect with our kids about what inclusion means, then perhaps we will see a big impact. Maybe we will see more stories about people of all ages making steps to create a better social culture.