Last week, I introduced the first couple of pieces of my LEGupward Model of Inclusion. While I was writing the next post to introduce the rest of my framework, someone posed an intriguing question: If the goal is to include everyone, why does the journey start from within? This is a critical puzzle piece, and warrants some undivided attention so that the rest of the pieces of the LEGupward framework fit together and make sense cohesively (more on this in the coming weeks).
On the surface, this question can be answered quite easily: intentional inclusion is dependent on people including themselves in situations of their choice. But, we need to go deeper than that to unpack what looking within even implies, if only to address the reality that not all of the environments we are expected to participate in are contingent on choice. For instance, none of us get to choose our families, their dynamics or any inherent politics. We often have to deal with people and situations we don’t want to engage with. So, in that context, what does looking within have to do with inclusion?
Looking Within means walking a mile in your own shoes.
Can you see yourself fully? The old saying goes that to know someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. While I have always found this saying to be a little ableist, its underlying meaning cannot be denied. What it means is that to truly understand another person, we need to be mindful and present, and view their life from their lens. And it becomes especially profound when we apply it to ourselves. How many of us take the time to genuinely view our lives through our personal lens? We spend an untold number of minutes and hours scrutinizing our selfies and pictures, especially in this modern social media world, but how much time do we spend focusing that attention within? How often do we invest the time to truly think about the path we are walking on, and who we are being and presenting as when we walk? We act mostly on either instinctual or conditioned behaviors, and we think we know ourselves.
Yet, when asked some clichéd interview style questions like, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”, we often draw blanks or give canned responses. Most of us don’t take the time to think about what lights our inner fires, what compels us, what holds us back, our invisible internal traumas, and, the internal assumptions and biases about the world around us that we take into every situation with us. All of these things dictate what we think about ourselves, and about others.
Taking the time to look within is a step to making the invisible parts of ourselves visible to us. It is an essential part of becoming self-aware and fully comprehending the wholeness of our Self as a person before we can see others as whole beings. It means being comfortable with the discomfort of analyzing our vulnerability, and using it as a tool to connect with others, create trust, and grow together.
These particular points came into the spotlight in my life when I finally took the time to truly and holistically process my own trauma-recovery journey. I started by looking at the things I was telling me about myself, and how that affected me. At the risk of being redundant, while my experiences felt uniquely unique, investing the time to make sense of myself by looking within me was the key toward my realization of the biases and assumptions in the stories I was telling myself (some details of this are in my book). These stories – my personal narrative – affected how I presented myself, how I interacted with others around me, and how I reacted and responded to others. Creating a solid foundation of “me” enables authenticity and transparency without having to worry about over sharing or misrepresentation of information.
Looking Within means being empathetic towards you.
In a previous post a couple of months ago, I talked about how inclusion necessitates empathy. Most of us, especially those in the Diversity and Inclusion space in any industry, elevate the importance of having empathy when dealing with people who are different than us.
Historically, it was mostly used in the health and healing professions, but over time, the positive impact of empathy has been shown to be profound in almost any industry within any space. Empathy has been shown to be a component of emotional intelligence; it has been demonstrated to be a useful and necessary leadership skill; and, it has been described as a tool that can de-escalate almost any type of conflict. But, while we think about empathy toward others, we often don’t give ourselves the grace and acknowledgement that we need from our worst critic – us.
We seek acknowledgement from others, especially when we do something well, or accomplish something. We also seek grace from others, especially in the form of forgiveness for our transgressions or mistakes. Somehow, through all of this, we lose sight of the fact that, outside of all external validations and acknowledgements, we first need to acknowledge and allow ourselves to recognize our shortcomings. We need to do this so we can look for opportunities for growth.
Going back to my story of my journey toward inclusion, gaining a deeper understanding of myself allowed me to realize the true power of empathy. My recovery process created a space for me to acknowledge my growth, my future, and myself. Until I walked a mile in my own shoes, I was neglecting the importance of my own acknowledgements. I was, in a sense, blind to my own journey. But, by being empathetic toward myself, and by acknowledging myself, I was not only able to make peace with my inner demons, I was also able to connect better with those around me.
Looking Within means owning the pricelessness of the value we add to any situation.
Through my experience of looking within and aligning my identity, values, purpose, mission and goals with deliberate intention toward clarity, I was able to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses that I bring to any context or interaction. I was not only able to realize the value I add, I was able to thrive in it. I was empowered to own and hone it to propel future growth. And, I started seeing others in this way as well. This is what happens when we take the time to look within ourselves. In the context of inclusion, once we look within to understand ourselves better, and practice acknowledging ourselves, it is almost inevitable to start seeing the value that we add to situations with much more clarity. This not only brings with it a personal confidence and self-esteem boost, it also allows us to be more effective contributors and listeners. It elevates our leadership skills. We start seeing the intrinsic value of the people we work with because of their unique life experiences, not in spite of them. We are able to validate others’ values from the place of our own, without judgments or comparisons. We eliminate the restrictions we are conditioned to place on each other by virtue of organizational hierarchies and politics. This is an invaluable tool to uplift and empower the voices and perspectives of those who are members of marginalized groups, especially in corporate spaces.
Ultimately, the power to promote belongingness within our teams, work groups, social groups, organizations and communities is within us. The secret lies in operating from a level of self-awareness that allows us to step outside all of the conditioning and brainwashing we have been exposed to over the course of our lifetimes. The messaging we receive from the world around us treats vulnerability as a trait that only the weak have. This is so contradictory to the reality of human nature that it is a shame this type of messaging exists at all. It damages the quest for inclusion more than other factors, because it turns inclusion into a power play. For inclusion to be holistic and part of the culture, we have to embrace our own vulnerability and be very careful about our treatment of others’.
When we do this, every single person is able to embed themselves as their own centers of their spheres of influence. People can then be empowered to affect positive change from within them, and radiate it outward into their environments. How then are these environments affected by people who take the time to look within? That question will be answered soon in a future post. Stay tuned!