About a year go, I started a volleyball group where I live (Bogota, Colombia).
We’ve been playing almost every Saturday for over a year and most Saturdays we have 15-20 people show up and play.
My goal for the group from the very beginning has been to be inclusive – regardless of age, gender, country of origin, or volleyball ability.
I always make sure to personally welcome new members, to talk to them, and to introduce them to everyone else.
We have lots of regular players and we also always welcome new players – some play only once and then disappear, others love it so much that they quickly become a regular.
The volleyball group has become a community and has expanded beyond volleyball to having picnics, BBQ’s, potluck dinners, celebrating birthdays, and other social events.
Those events have also been incredibly inclusive, with all regular members (and sometimes some less regular members) being invited.
Recently, though I’ve noticed a change. Some members have decided to plan social events and not invite the whole group and instead only invite certain members of the group.
When I first noticed this happening, I stayed silent and instead decided to wait and see if this would continue or if these were just isolated incidents.
That may have been a mistake because they have indeed continued.
The most recent example is an upcoming birthday celebration for two of our members.
I was invited to the event but when looking through the list of invitees I noticed that about 10-20% of the members had been left out (about 5-6 people). Two were subsequently added, but the others still haven’t been invited.
Needless to say I am not happy.
And making me even unhappier was that the event was being planned by one of my co-organizers for the volleyball games – someone who I had bent over backwards to include in the group when (due to some personal issues) wasn’t able to comply with our very minimal membership requirements.
This time I made my displeasure known about what was happening to a few of the key people involved.
And what I’ve been told in response is basically this: “This is a private event that has nothing to do with the volleyball group and we can invite whoever we want”.
On the one hand they’re correct that they can invite whoever they want. But just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.
On the other hand, they’re wrong that the birthday celebration has nothing to do with the volleyball group. If the volleyball group didn’t exist, then the birthday celebration wouldn’t be taking place. So the two are clearly intertwined.
And, if you can invite 80-90% of the members of a group, then you can easily include a few more people. That IS the right thing to do.
So you might be wondering…what is my point in telling you all this?
One of the greatest human needs is the need for belonging. We all desire to be included, to be part of something, to know that we matter to others.
I’ve been excluded before and I know how much that hurts. And there are times when I’ve excluded others and I deeply regret those decisions.
You can almost never go wrong in life by bending over backwards to be inclusive.
Excluding people, on the other hand, can destroy friendships, can harm families, can divide communities.
(there’s also evidence that excluding others does psychological harm to both the excluder and the person being excluded)
Exclusion, by the way, can take many different forms. Sometimes it can be as simple as not acknowledging someone’s presence.
So this is what I urge you to think about:
- What can I do to be more inclusive with my friends, with my family, and in my community?
- Who have I been excluding that I need to be more inclusive with?
- Is there anyone that I need to make amends with because I excluded them in the past (or perhaps they excluded me)?