Inclusion. It’s more than the mere opposite of exclusion, although that is certainly true. The Latin prefixes “in-“ and “ex-“ do mean, alternately, “in, or indwelling” and “out of, or from.” The meaning of inclusion, however, is not simply to identify the ones who are now in but used to be out. Instead, what is significant is the transformative promise of someone’s being included, where once she or he was excluded.
Can you remember the feeling you had when you weren’t invited to the birthday party sleep-over, chosen by either of the playground team captains for a pick-up game of football, or asked to join your office mates for drinks after work? Do you recall the helplessness and hurt you experienced when someone in your family was snubbed and callously left out of the organization or passed over for a promotion that was clearly earned?
Alternately, can you reimagine the shame that disturbed your thoughts when you joined in a racist, sexist, or homophobic joke, or barred someone from your club or popular “in-crowd” because she was different, or voted to maintain city regulations and boundaries that kept the poor on the other side of the tracks?
Being excluded is painful while being included is exhilarating. There is an emotional rush, but especially a gratifying subtext that says “I’m valued, I’m liked, I have a place, I am equal” that makes inclusion so self-affirming and life-changing.
The promise of inclusion is intrinsically connected with the ways, subtle and obvious, that love is at work when somebody isn’t left out.
Love. It’s more than sentimentality, affection, romance, or even devotion. It is emotive, but also cerebral and volitional—a conclusion of the mind and decision of the will as well as a feeling of the heart. Love is a verb and not just a noun, so it requires acting in a certain fashion toward the one who is loved.
And because love is so much more than a warm, fuzzy emotion it has tremendous power to create a better world. When love and inclusion are the default values we call upon when we engage others, we radically enlarge the circle of our relationships, the scope of our community. The global village becomes our neighborhood.
What does the promise of inclusion and the power of love have to do with the way that we treat refugees and immigrants? The nearest neighbors across the nation’s borders? Allies and friends around the world whose loyalty is desired? Perceived and actual enemies, whether military, racial, sectarian, or socio-economic? The youngest and most vulnerable in society? The elderly and feeble, the physically and mentally challenged, the overlooked and discounted? The earth itself?
The promise of inclusion, the power of love—not just a catchy theme or a clever motto. These phrases are so much fuller and more profound. They signal the hope of a new tomorrow.