The Inclusion Paradox

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It is only by working together, whilst being physically disconnected and distanced from each other, will we be truly inclusive and empower others to speak up

We find ourselves today operating in uncharted territory, never before seen in our lifetimes and, for some of us, even in our parents’ lifetimes. We are experiencing dramatic disruption and volatility in the way that we conduct business and live our lives.  The real question is this: are we prepared to compromise our own lifestyle in order to save other people’s lives?

The rapid acceleration of COVID-19 around the world has brought the question of social wellbeing and inclusion high up the agenda because, in order to be safe and well, we have to keep our distance from each other.  How can that be so?

Why it is hard

As humans, we crave connection. The idea of un-learning the handshake or hug is complex and challenging. Keeping ourselves away from others in self-isolation is counter-intuitive to the way we seek purpose and belonging in our tribal cultures, communities, families, and ways of working.  And yet, the paradox is that science is telling us that it is only by working both in isolation and collectively at the same time, will we conquer COVID-19 and halt its path.

Decision-making at time of disorder throws up so many unique challenges.  We don’t have all the data, situations are emergent and ever-changing, and the consequences of our choices have a human cost.  Yet we need to make decisions quickly and we need to make them collectively, at a time when self-interest, not shared interest, is our brain’s default response to threat and attack.

We need to be mindful, not mindless, of our inbuilt mechanism to flee and protect only ourselves when under fire.  This is why inclusion matters more than ever – we have to manually override our internal, hard-wired alarm bells and seek a shared vision that will optimise the health and prosperity of us all.

How we can reframe

Being inclusive is ultimately a generous and human capability that can be nurtured through asking ourselves the following:

  • what is truly important? what are the big questions that we need to be asking here?
  • why are we really doing this? who will benefit? is that fair?
  • what does good feel like? how will others feel as a consequence of my actions?

These questions bring a cognitive and human clarity to what we say, to what we do, and how we make others feel.  In essence, they bring a sense of human connection, a shared purpose and create empathy at a time when it would be easy and natural to defer to self-interest.  We need to create a climate where acting in the interest of others, is the best thing for ourselves as individuals. If only a percentage of any population complies with the isolation and social-distancing requirements of COVID-19, then we will all suffer.

Building empathy, connection and shared purpose

The cultural and interpersonal gaps that can exist between us are made even more challenging in a disconnected and virtual world.  Our ability to be in tune with each other through shared experiences and moments of togetherness has to be adapted to accommodate the virtual space between us.  It takes effort, it takes time and it is demanding.  We have to be curious about each other, we need to care, and we need to invest in each other to re-create those virtual water cooler moments that build those bonds and emotional bridges.  We need to be able to understand one another, and one another’s emotions, by learning about each other’s hopes, dreams, fears and stories.  By doing this we will activate and engage more of our brain’s capacity associated with empathy, compassion, and anchor our relationships in meaning and purpose.

Taking the time to pause

In a rapidly changing and shifting world around us, we are being asked to step back and withdraw from connecting with each other in a way that feels inhuman. Yet we need to act together, in isolation, for the good of our humanity.  By pressing the pause button on our ways of living, we have the opportunity to re-connect with who we really are, what we stand for, and why we do what we do.

We are being offered the time and space to learn about each other’s beliefs, values and re-think our assumptions that may have governed the way we treat each other.  And, ironically, we are being given the chance to do the very thing that our brains are hardwired not to do in a time of heightened anxiety and fear:  to put each other first.

Are you up for it?