Inclusive Community

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on Healthy Communities, and identified six components of a healthy community: Authenticity, Inclusion, Outward Focused, Accepting, Supportive, Accountable. I followed that up with a post on Authentic Communities.

I’ve kept chewing on these concepts, and today I’d like to take a stab at Inclusive Communities. The trouble is that “inclusion” sounds nice, but it’s terribly hard to qualify.

What does it mean to intentionally create a community of Inclusion ?

As I was considering the word Inclusion, I was transported to a diamond factory I visited in Israel this spring. (Did you know that 75% of the words diamonds go through Israeli artisans? I didn’t!)

What triggered my memory and fascination today is that an “inclusion” in a diamond is another word for a “flaw.”

We aren’t fond of the word flaw, but I believe our “flaws” are a significant part of our identity. Hear this description of natural inclusions in diamonds:

“Almost every diamond displays ‘birthmarks,’ called inclusions, which occur naturally when the diamond was formed deep within the earth. These inclusions act as nature’s fingerprint and give each diamond its unique character.” (Natural Inclusions in Diamonds | Cape Town Diamond Museum)

Do you see the beauty in that description? I do! It reminds me of the way God redeems all things for His glory, even our flaws! Haven’t you seen times when the inclusion of someone’s “unique character” benefits your group? I have!

I think the trick is creating a space where people can feel the freedom to share their unique qualities with safety. We’ve all lived in a world where fitting in is a really high priority.

How do we create that inclusive environment? It takes me back to an influential college professor who used to say, “The most important skill you can possess is an unabashed curiosity in people and events.”

You see, we have a set of questions we’re used to asking and being asked when we get around people. They are nonchalant, and the farthest thing from true curiosity. We ask things like, “How have you been doing?” “What has been going on with you?” “What did you think of the latest movie,” etc.

While these are good social convention questions and they do provide a place to start a shallow relationship, if we never move beyond those questions, we never get to the actual person and the heart issues that make a difference.

(This is why I hate the two minutes of “stand up and greet those around you” in a church service. There’s absolutely no way that anyone can have a conversation in that length of time! OK… back to the point at hand…)

There is a difference between convention and curiosity.

Curiosity asks questions several layers deep, seeking to understand and clarify what is important to the other.

Curiosity is a form of hospitality. Hospitality moves the focus from ME and all of my perceived issues and onto YOU, making you feel comfortable, known and loved.

What questions do you ask that promote inclusion, curiosity, and hospitality? What actions communicate those values to others?

Well, even just an understanding smile can be a life changing difference on a rough day!

Are you on the lookout for the lonely? Do you intentionally let others join into conversations? Do you talk through issues face to face? Do you reach out deliberately to new people? Are you a connector, referring people with similar interests to one another?

I ask myself these questions and I find I have room to improve – but there’s no shame in that because I believe we all can improve! Our zip codes are filled with many who walk around unknown and unloved, lonely.

But we can be a part of changing that culture – and that’s terribly exciting!

Start today by offering someone a sincere compliment.

Compliments are lovely in all shapes and sizes, but the ones that stick with us are the ones that are true and apply to our character: “I admire you for your resilience,” “I see how you are persistent even then things are monotonous, you still get up and do the right thing every day and that inspires me!” “You were brave when you spoke up in that situation – what an example you are to others!”

Compliments can be given to the checker at the grocery store, to our spouses and children, to our friends. When we take the first step to include people, we become world changers.

I’m going to close with this little poem by Edwin Markham. I love it because it connects this idea of hospitality with the vision I now have of inclusions in diamonds:

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”

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