Inclusion [not to be confused with the Christian concept of “universal reconciliation”], is a paradigm of thought, which recognizes that major societal conflicts, imbalances and injustices are not situations that can be resolved by catering just to the “majority”; all ethnic perspectives have to be considered to solve societal problems. Inclusion, as an academic, sociological theory focuses only on ethnic diversity. In this article however, the scope is broadened beyond ethnic groups to include all “socially labeled” groups and communities in modern society. In this context, inclusion acknowledges that societal injustices may affect different people unequally, based on race, age, culture, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education level, and other factors. However, even though the effects of social injustice are unequally dealt out to different segments of society, they are nonetheless felt by all segments of society.
When we adopt this perspective of inclusion, we can immediately see how enacting laws, policies and social norms based only on the “majority” group will actually result in greater inequity, greater imbalance, and increased numbers of inter-group conflicts. This is because the combined unaddressed needs of the minority groups will far outweigh the majority group’s needs. In order to truly reconcile past grievances and create a healthy infrastructure for the future, it is necessary incorporate inclusion in every single aspect of human life. While this whole discussion may seem like an off-the-wall topic best left to the dusty halls of academia, this particular perspective of inclusion has become especially relevant to American and international communities in the past year, and thus, important to know and understand.
The idea of inclusion may sound like an impossible dream, or a purely academic theoretical fantasy, or even an ignorant copout to some people. But, it is actually a reasonable, scientifically sound, and achievable goal, albeit a difficult one. It is hard because our brains are wired to take the easy way out — they are cognitive misers — which usually makes our assumptions about other people and their lives, inaccurate.
Even then, it is possible for us to train our brains to cut this automatic categorization process and the negative effects it has on the functioning of society. This self-perpetuated training towards a more inclusive perspective widens our mental horizons in several ways, so that we can evolve into a sustainable future:
1. Inclusion necessitates an increase in Empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand any given situation from another person’s perspective, the ability to feel what the other person is feeling in the situation, and the conscious desire to help the other person if needed. It is an adaptive trait that has ensured the survival and reproductive success of humans. Evolutionarily, as humans, we found that “reciprocal altruism” increased our likelihood of survival. In a nutshell, reciprocal altruism is the academic phrase for, “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.” Reciprocal altruism also introduced the concepts of “friendship” and the “greater good” to our species. It is the basis of social groups, communities, societies and civilizations. But, while reciprocal altruism and empathy are related, this mechanism has also resulted in divisions of “us versus them”. Over time, brilliant leaders and politicians furthered their own economic and/or political power agendas by manipulating and distorting these underlying human traits of empathy and kinship until society forgot that empathy is crucial for our existence.
Increasing empathy in leaders has been shown to be associated with increased cooperation, collaboration and communication, and decreased hostility and prejudice in multi-cultural teams. A move to a more inclusive perspective enables us to rebuild our empathy on a societal level. It enables us to realize that we are more similar to each other than different — a step that is critical to address and enforce real solutions toward equality.
As responsible leaders and humans, we need to incorporate this inclusive perspective into our own lives and the lives of those around us to increase empathy in an individual, and in our groups. By actively training ourselves to increase our empathy, we can provide and carry out a sustainable solution and direction for equality, for the sake of our current and future generations.
2. Inclusion decreases attribution biases and errors.
As humans, we try to make sense of all the social interactions around us. When we have to judge our own or other people’s behaviors, we tend to systematically over- or under-use all the information that is available to us. This is an attribution bias. There are many different types of attribution biases which we use to make judgments about behaviors in the course of our daily lives. The judgments we make are dependent on whether we are judging ourselves, a fellow in-group member, or an out-group member, someone who is tangibly different from us. They are also dependent on the locus of causality – the extent to which the causes of a situation are thought to be because of internal factors (a person’s personality, preparation, determination, character) or external factors (luck, weather, God, things outside of human control). Generally, the biases enable us to attribute our personal and in-group successes to internal traits, and personal and in-group failures to external factors outside of our control. Conversely, when we are judging others who are not a part of our “in-group”, we attribute their successes to external factors such as luck, and we think their failures happen because of their internal personality traits, because they are just bad people. When something good happens to us, it is because we deserve it; when something bad happens to us, it is because we have rotten luck or because life is unfair. But, when something good happens to people that we don’t like, we usually think it is because they had a stroke of luck, yet, when something bad happens to them, we think its Karma, or the Universe doling out a healthy scoop of justice.
Inclusion creates a more balanced perspective for judgment because it enables us to consider the validity and truth behind other people’s experiences. We can then attribute the causes of their behaviors more accurately, because we can personally relate to them. The more we relate to another person, and the more we identify with them, the more likely we are to support them. In this way, we blur the lines in the “us” versus “them” false dichotomy that we live in. The problems and potential global catastrophes that we are currently experiencing all over the world are proof that we need to eradicate or at least reduce this “us versus them” mentality. It is no longer working for us. We need to work together equally and equitably as human beings to tackle problems that affect all of us unequally.
3. Inclusion decreases violence within and between racial groups.
One of the universal human “truths” that we discovered early in the twentieth century was that violence and aggression beget more violence and aggression. In 1961, psychologist Albert Bandura showed us that children who are exposed to violence begin to accept violence and use violence as a response to conflict. For the past few decades, research that has focused on the effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior has revealed the same trend: Violence leads to more violence. Recent studies have even shown evidence of significantly increased likelihoods of mood disorders and other psychological disorders among people who played exposed to violence regularly. So we know that violence is not a practical solution to problems.
By acknowledging the similarities between ourselves and others, however small and seemingly insignificant, we become less provocative, less reactive, and more proactive about solving our problems. It allows us to think more coherently, and pursue non-violent solutions. It reduces violent or aggressive responses to human transgressions, since we will be able to see our humanity reflected in other people.
Many leaders have quite effectively and successfully used “human-ness”, empathy and solidarity to make tremendous positive changes in their communities. It is time that we re-learned the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Their inclusive strategies based on non-violence, empathy and compassion have left a greater legacy than the aggressive responses and reactions of militant activists and groups! Inclusion allows us to take violence off the table. When we remove violence as a viable option from every situation, we open many possibilities of real discourse and progress in the realm of human equality.
4. Inclusion develops our sense of self-awareness, allowing us to master both our rational, and our emotional thoughts.
Ancient philosophies devoted a considerable amount of discussion to the importance of mastering emotions. Retro New Age off-shoots and leaders have brought its importance back into the spotlight. Science and business research have also made the mastery of emotions the focus of considerable amount of energy and funds. The Harvard Business Review recently even touted it as the MOST important characteristic for a leader to have. When we master ourselves and our emotions, we have complete control over our behaviors in any situation, regardless of its volatility. This mastery allows us to combat hate. It lets us be proactive in changing our lives. It elevates us all into leaders capable of influence and real change.
This entire process is possible due to two underlying psychological truths:
- the universality of human emotions, and,
- emotional contagion.
Dr. Paul Ekman – the leading expert on emotions and emotional expression – found that while people experience and express an emotion, say “happiness” for different reasons, the emotion of happiness is cross-culturally universal. In other words, an American man may whoop in joy, an Asian woman may hide behind her smile, and a religious person may bow his or her head down in prayer, but most of us know exactly what happiness is because we have experienced it.
So, as humans, we can identify basic emotions in other humans, based on their facial expressions, with startling accuracy. These emotions are then transferred between people, affecting our subjective individual moods, in a process called emotional contagion. This is why sad negative people drain our energy, why we love being around our happy, busy, energetic friends who always somehow make us feel better, why violence leads to more violence, and why inclusion is necessary. When we include other people’s opinions and thoughts, we are able to recognize the emotions behind them. The recognition eventually transfers to us, so that we are able to feel what they feel.
In order to be able to resolve human equality problems that we are currently facing as people, and especially as Americans, we have to first create a society where the flaws, disparities and injustices can be identified before they can be addressed. Emotional mastery gives us the ability to do this without outbursts. It minimizes the internal conflict and cognitive dissonance – that inner voice that scolds us for even considering an “obviously wrong opinion”, and keeps cutting other thoughts off making it impossible to actually think. Unless we master our emotions and embrace inclusion, important human issues such as equality will continue to toss in the stormy seas of our emotions and our differences, until they just get swept away without resolution.
Ultimately, inclusion is the only practical solution that we have to address social and societal disparities in ways that are effective, efficient, and, truly sustainable. The problems facing modern society are human problems, and impact all of us and our future generations as human beings. It is critical that we come together on this now. While we are all products of our history, our actions and our future are not bound or dictated by old limits. We are born with certain human traits, but that doesn’t mean we are doomed. Just like young girls and boys can be socialized not to believe in stereotypes like, “Pink is only for girls”, we can also teach ourselves to be a more inclusive, culturally competent society.
This is no way means that the mistakes of our past should be forgotten. The violent discrimination of the past has turned into a hydra monster in present times. For every Michael Brown, there are countless other young men who faced the same fate as him; for every Jyoti Singh in India, there are countless other young women who are brutalized; and, for every known member of ISIS, there are innumerable numbers of unknown supporters. Age old societal problems still exist; they are just even more pervasive and much tougher to fight in the 21st century. This not because the leaders of the past didn’t face insurmountable obstacles. We know they did! But, in this current day and age of global immigration, in a global society, our problems have gotten larger than life. We need to find smarter ways to achieve equality. We are in a war for basic human rights, but we have to fight it with intelligence and non-violent tactics. We are not going to realize equality by fighting categorizing ourselves and others as “Asians”, “Blacks”, “Whites”, “Browns”, “Gays”, “Women” or anything else; these categories create divisions and “us versus them” mentalities. The only way to reshape our culture to make it healthy and equal for all, is to fight these problems as humans, and to include all humans in our fight. We need to commit every single day to fighting for equal human rights with inclusion, regardless of how long it takes to win.
The human species is at a critical juncture in its evolution, with regards to fundamental human rights and equality. We have reached a threshold, and the next few steps we take, as a culture, and as a species, may very well determine the fate of our society’s existence. Our status quo as humans has been based on a societal foundation that is no longer working to address the needs of a vastly diverse global population. The meaning of diversity has expanded enormously over the past century, and many of the initiatives and policies that now govern us do not reflect this expansion.This is why we need a fundamental paradigm shift. We need to embrace a more inclusive perspective, because societal disparities have never been just one race’s or one group’s problem. Until now we have operated under the assumption that societal problems happen between a few opposing sides, while the rest of the world watches on. We now know that this is not true. They are HUMAN problems; it is time we realize that and channel our actions appropriately.