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Embracing Inclusion: A Leadership Journey Towards Belonging

Belonging is a recurring theme in both my professional leadership work and personal experiences. I've long pursued a sense of belonging, often feeling empathy for those excluded and experiencing the painful loneliness of not fitting in.

Consider places with specific qualifications for group membership. Sometimes, we encounter exclusion in places of worship or in groups others expect us to join for worship. Personally, this hit home during my wedding preparations when my soon-to-be husband felt excluded due to certain rituals and guidelines. While I understood these rules intellectually, they didn't resonate with me emotionally.

Our homes can also be sites of exclusion, especially regarding whom someone loves or how they identify. This type of exclusion contradicts the notion of unconditional parental love and can be profoundly isolating and traumatic.

During Pride month, it's crucial to acknowledge that many young people face exclusion and isolation from their families, even if they haven't come out yet. It's important to reflect on our own experiences of exclusion and ensure we convey unconditional love to the young people in our lives.

Pride flags hanging in front of trees

In schools, the feeling of exclusion is often prevalent among students. This can stem from various factors such as academic performance, social status, or even personal interests. When students experience exclusion, they may respond by forming their own exclusive groups to avoid being excluded themselves. For instance, a group of high-achieving students might create a study club that only admits students with top grades, unintentionally excluding others who may benefit from academic support.

To break this cycle of exclusion, it's essential for individuals to acknowledge their own feelings of exclusion and understand how their actions contribute to perpetuating exclusion. For example, a student who feels excluded from a popular social group may decide to reach out and include classmates with diverse backgrounds and interests in their social activities. By embracing these differences and actively including others, they can help foster a more inclusive and welcoming school environment.

Connecting with others who are different from us is key to solving challenges effectively. Diversity in thinking and backgrounds enhances success. Even when people look like us, there are still differences worth exploring.

Fear of being different or thinking differently often hinders belonging. The fear of exclusion leads us to conform, stifling diversity of thought and ideas.

In a recent sermon at the First Congregational Church of Wolfeboro (FCCW), Pastor Dawn Adams spoke about the concept of hospitality as the opposite of cruelty, using the analogy of puzzle pieces to illustrate belonging. This analogy deeply resonated with my personal experiences of exclusion. Just as each puzzle piece has a unique place in creating the whole picture, each person plays a vital role in fostering inclusivity. The sermon highlighted the importance of reevaluating our understanding of where we fit in the larger puzzle of society and extending hospitality to those who may feel excluded. If you're curious, you can watch the sermon on FCCW's YouTube channel to explore these insightful themes further.

Diverse hands holding puzzle peices together

Young people are exploring where they fit, trying different "puzzles" to find their place. We should allow them this exploration, understanding that their journey may differ from ours. While analogies like puzzles have their limits, they can guide us in supporting young people's search for belonging in a diverse world.

Let's actively foster inclusivity and belonging in our communities. Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences of exclusion and how you can promote acceptance and understanding. Reach out to someone who may be feeling excluded and offer your support and empathy. Together, we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.

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