Everybody knows what it is like to be on the outside looking in. That loneliness of feeling excluded, of not being able to be a part of ‘that’ group. Just writing this I feel like I might be slipping back into high school, but the fact is that throughout life, we have a habit of forming little circles of safety. Some are more inclusive than others, but there is always bound to be someone looking at one of our circles and wishing that they could be a part of it.
I am very averse to cliques; I have found that more often than not I am on the outside of the clique, which is bound to lead to more of an aversion than those on the inside. Those on the inside usually don’t know that they are in a clique, which in turn suggests that I don’t either. I seem to be going off on a tangent but my point is that most of us are naturally exclusive.
How do we create a place where we have the safety of close friendships, without leaving people feeling like they are left on the outside looking in?
I am an introvert. A loud, boisterous and obnoxious one, sure, but I am an introvert all the same. I find meeting new people exhausting and I don’t handle groups well. I love to be around people but there comes a point when I just have to leave or kick them out. Fortunately, my friends know me well and are able to tolerate this somewhat erratic behaviour.
However, I am hardly someone who is naturally inclusive. I like safety, a safe group of people. I hate that feeling of being alone in a crowd and I protect myself from it as often as possible. I am hopeless at small talk so conversations with strangers can be exhausting, verging on ridiculous.
So why, you might wonder, am I writing on inclusion? I am bad at it, but I am passionate about it. I know so many people who leave the task of ‘welcoming’ to others who have the ‘gift’, but we are all able to relate to the feeling of being lost in a crowd, of being lonely, of feeling unloved. You are a very unique person indeed if you don’t understand what all of this feels like, and if that is you, then I salute you. Please come say hi, I think I could learn something.
With this understanding of loneliness, should we not be driven to do our part in ensuring that others do not have the same experience of exclusion as we feel or have felt?
The thing is, the majority of the time, we are not deliberately exclusive. This means we have an enormous opportunity to open ourselves up to be inclusive. If we consciously take note of our behaviour when in groups, considering how our behaviour would make us feel if we were unknown, then we are immediately more aware of those around us.
We have an ability to choose how we behave. If you are a Christian, then there is a gospel imperative to choose an inclusive attitude towards others. The thing is, this does not have to be a hurtful or exhausting thing to do to yourself. Jesus regularly took his disciples off on their own. He had an exclusive group of friends, and he made sure that he had time to spend alone with them. He also, never said no to those in need. He always included everyone.
In his society, those that were most excluded were the ones that he went to the most. The widows, the orphans, the disabled, the tax collectors and the Romans; he dealt with everyone, with love and inclusion.
Following the example of Jesus, means that when we need the space to be alone with our friends we need to do this in private. However, when in public, we must do all that we can to ensure that no one is outside our group looking in and feeling that they are unloved. Everyone, regardless of faith, personality, sexuality, gender, age, race or any other potentially ‘divisive factor’ has the desire to be included.
In any case, it might turn out, that they do not even want to be part of your ‘group’, but how will they know, until we open the doors and welcome them in.
Katharine Welby is the guest editor for threads this week. Check back throughout the week for more articles she has commissioned around the theme of inclusion.