Dance With Me
Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. - Verna Myers
Back in 1963 when Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream speech”, I was nothing more than a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. I would come to learn about the profound content of the speech in later years and even though I had never been the victim of racism or oppression, I fervently supported Dr. King’s dream.
It strikes me that not many people are dancing in the world today because we failed to fully achieve the kindness and inclusivity about which Dr. King spoke. The anonymity associated with the Internet and social media have given people a license to say whatever they want without fear of reprisal. In turn, this has fostered a desensitization among people to the feelings of others and has contributed to the abandonment of common decency.
Lately, it feels like we’re living in a divisive society where people lash out and are fearful, suspicious, and distrustful of one another. Our ability to have empathy and look at things from someone else’s perspective is becoming all too rare and this behavior is seriously eroding our communities.
A respected politician once said, “Simple tolerance, mere tolerance, is not enough. We need genuine and deep respect for each and every human being, notwithstanding their thoughts, their values, their beliefs, their origins”. I believe wholeheartedly in those words and know that disagreeing with people does not give me the right to denigrate them.
I love my country and all of the people in it and for that reason I have been doing my best to effect some change in my corner of the world. I recognize and appreciate that everyone wants to feel included and that exclusion makes people feel sad. As such, I make a conscious effort now to only use inclusive language and avoid using gender-biased words. It never occurred to me, for instance, that addressing a group of men and women as “guys” might be offensive to the women in the group. As such, I now substitute words like “folks” to address gender varied groups and try to remove gender-biased words from my speech entirely by substituting words like “humankind” for “mankind” and postal carrier for “mailman”.
Much as it is hard to change an old behavior, I have learned to accept criticism without getting annoyed and that’s important for two reasons: one, keeping an open mind to what others have to say gives me an entirely new perspective from which to consider things and two, it makes other people feel valued to have their opinions listened to and respected.
As a general rule of thumb, I say something nice about each person I meet. It costs me nothing, is easy to do and generates so much happiness that I can’t understand why we don’t all do it more often. “Your hair looks good today” or “nice tie” are simple compliments that serve not only to make others feel happy, but you as well for making other people happy.
Sharing information is a great way to foster inclusivity. I strive to always be transparent and to share information with as many people as I can. Whether it is coming across a new study about neurology and forwarding it to a friend with Parkinson’s disease or telling a friend where to get free leaf compost, information is power and should be shared.
In order to build a world where we treat each other with kindness and respect, we must invest the time to learn from one another. I make it a priority to listen carefully to what other people have to say and to ask questions to let people know that I am listening and that I value their opinions. As a general rule of thumb, I preface my conversion contributions with a reminder that it is only my opinion I’m putting forward and I am careful to never disrespect or dismiss other people’s contributions whether or not I agree with them.
The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. - Coretta Scott King
Putting a smile on the faces of people and warming their hearts is as simple as committing to doing some random acts of kindness. For my part, I scan various media sites periodically to source out free stuff I can give to others like baby clothes for my neighbors with infants. I was a stay-at-home mom with three sons under six years of age and I remember being thrilled when people would bring over baby clothes and toys for my kids.
As a way to maintain a solid connection with my community, I recently joined an online neighborhood group, comprising more than 800 people who live in my area. Through this group, I’m able to keep abreast of what’s going on in my community, share information, and encourage others who post about their accomplishments. Likewise, I participate in online government discussions and town hall meetings so that I can offer my feedback on things going on in my community.
Actions speak louder than words.
For the very first time in my life, I have sought out volunteer opportunities so that I might give back to my community. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life reading and want to encourage that passion in others. The local library needs help with its adult literacy and children’s learn to read programs and so, I’ve offered my time to these worthwhile endeavors.
My sons spent a lot of their childhood at one of our local parks and it's in this park where I hope to contribute the rest of my volunteering hours. The park needs help with its children’s gardening program and also with its petting zoo.
Finally, I realized that I have accumulated a number of self help books over the years. This coming summer, I have asked my husband to build a small community library that I can put on the front lawn. I plan to stock it with self help books and encourage people from the community to borrow any books they feel might benefit them.
Dr. King’s dream still resonates with us today. He wanted his people treated with kindness and respect and as equals in society. With the best of intentions and a little work, we can expand on Dr. King’s dream and ensure that everyone, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion or political strip, is treated with kindness and respect and as an equal in society.
So, who’s ready to dance?
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