Fostering Inclusion: A Primer on how to Create Belonging
Belonging is the right thing to do because human beings need a place to be accepted and cherished. It is critical to our wellbeing to have places of belonging. When we feel we belong, we feel motivated to participate, feel comfortable coming up with new ideas, and feel we matter. Other words to describe belonging are inclusion, acceptance, connection, and identification with our values in a group. Conversely, feeling lonely, unwelcomed, and cast out is scary and unhealthy. Our lives depend on feeling included. We can create belonging in our homes, in our places of work and schools, and in our communities.
When we don’t feel welcomed, a good place to begin is offering space to share stories and listen. When we hear of others who were excluded and they share their resilience stories, we know we are not alone. At home, this can be a time of connecting with loved ones and checking in with how they are doing. Ask questions to discover how their belonging is going. “On a scale of 1-10, how welcome do you feel in your job/school?” “How many times do you feel lonely in your week on average?” “What are some moments you felt really included and celebrated?” Being listened to and connecting deeply on this topic can be a great place to start fostering inclusion at home, work, and in the community.
It’s proven that mentorship provides a deeper level of support to help navigate belonging. When we have an ally, someone who is in our corner to listen and support, belonging happens. Having a friend to talk to and who has experienced a similar situation shields the effect of exclusion. Whether in the corporate, school, or societal setting, inclusion is easier with an ally. Being a great listener and allowing the speaker to share their feelings and perspectives without judgement, creates a safe space. Caring opens the door to inclusion. The listener isn’t required to know the answer or change the situation for belonging to occur. Being curious and asking, “Imagine you were talking to someone in the same situation. What would you say or do to help them to feel better?” This allows the speaker space to brainstorm authentic solutions and focus on what support might be possible.
Empowerment. Take the answer to the previous question, “What would you do or say to help this situation?” Empowerment is giving control back to the person who is lonely, left out, or feeling unwelcomed. What would you do? This reverses the power and gives control back to the individual. We can stop feeling like the victim of the situation when we imagine ways to feel included. Talking out the feelings of unbelonging, feeling safe to share the struggle of feeling lonely, we can then move to imagining what inclusion would feel like in ways you have control over. “I may not feel welcomed, but I can welcome others. I am going to actively invite new conversations and get to know other people.” Empowerment can happen when we can imagine change and feel hope. This is easier to do with support and accountability because trying something new is scary.
I think that is what makes belonging tricky. When we try something new, we don’t know the effect of our actions and attempts until after we try. Tell someone what you are going through to create a cheerleading support. Smile and hold humor as you attempt to create more belonging. Humans are messy miracles. We’re still working on how to belong in the midst of technological changes, societal changes, aging, and stress. Trying is better than not trying. So, I leave you this question to explore belonging, “Based on your experience, what would you do to foster more belonging?” Please share, I’d love to hear what ideas you come up with!