Inclusion: Being a part of the social process
Picture the power of the improviser, not as she walks into the void with no knowledge of what is to come, but as a individual with history and a story already told. She walks backwards, feeding the played out parts onto the terrain like string- bits of bread to retrace her steps- and she looks over her shoulder at the future- knowing she is equipped for the compelling unknown.
This image was given to me by a practitioner on a course this Summer. I’ve fleshed out the metaphor a bit, because it makes it sound more epic, but it really struck me as important because often we talk about ourselves as inexperienced, flailing organisms bouncing around in the ether – subject to the claws of uncertainty- sweaty and flustered and nail biting. It’s all about feeling powerless in unknown spaces and scenarios- undermining our experience or not seeing it as something of note.
Allowing yourself to understand the control and power you have from within your own skin and bones- that’s important. You aren’t an imposter in your own life- although the syndrome is all too commonly known. And unfortunately people can make you feel like you are an imposter within an established space – rendering your experience invaluable. The power is lost- the same stories of exclusion are told and written into the fabric of society. When did we ever start believing that we could create spaces that certain people weren’t allowed into?
This is an issue I am increasingly aware of and have an interest in challenging. Control and power can be pulled away from you at any point. And, to backtrack, I am not naïve enough to buy into my mantra that the power is always within. We have to begin there but we also know that power is wielded around us in our external worlds consistently and sometimes unrelentingly. People abuse power and take up space with their power. And it’s right about now that power becomes a buzz word- but I feel that lots of people shy away from the word as if it were something to fear or skirt around. As an individual who has not experienced oppression (although as woman I experience power being used in specific ways towards or around me) I cannot possibly comment on what I assume to be the experience of those who are oppressed. But I can be part of the conversation. This is something I have recently attempted to articulate for the purpose of a strand of my job that has me involved in Inclusion & Diversity training; using theatre as a tool to demonstrate and example how to actively seek social change. I get up and talk to rooms of strangers about how I feel about this topic of individual and collective power. I’m still harnessing the craft and by no means can I talk about the issue in its entirety because, as previously stated, I am not someone who experiences the extremes of exclusion and bias.
But below I am sharing my recent recorded thoughts from my own perspective, and how I might go about explaining this to external partners:
There will always be a barrier if we view Inclusion as something that means establishing an existing space, where those who are inherently ‘included’ and therefore more ‘privileged’ already sit, and then, with by all means great intention, opening a door to herd the ‘excluded’ in- fitting them into a system that has a fixed shape and trying to ‘make it work’ for them- ‘they need more this and more that’, let’s give it to them but assume that we as the ‘included’ won’t necessarily change or grow from this. Don’t view inclusion as a charity case. It becomes a very dissatisfying process as a result.
This links to the image of a barrier with the three people standing behind it – one person can see over it and another needs a little box to stand on and another needs several large boxes to stand on to see over the barrier. This is not what creates an inclusive space- the barrier still exists. However, if we make it into a mesh fence- then all the individuals can see through it to the other side without all the extra stuff and tools and resources to make it happen. Where they come from, where they sit or stand and how are they without the extra bits- that’s enough to be included.
So, let’s view inclusion like this; from my perspective I felt this sense of guilt and frustration surrounding the topic of Inclusion and Unconscious Bias, partially because of my own privilege and partially because I wanted to know how to actually put all this theory into practice. How do I make change happen and be a part of the change, as opposed to being a passive social voyeur?
Inclusion is a social process that genuinely involves us all. We all benefit from it. I realised that what I thought was only the experience of the ‘certain excluded individuals’ – who, in a inclusively designed space, would be desiring and benefiting from a new found feeling of purpose and a greater sense of self and self-worth; what I thought was reserved as an experience only for those who ‘needed’ it, actually was something I gained too and also needed. I found my Inclusive space at the age of 12 and I flourished within it but somehow recently I had come to block that part of my brain that knew this fact and began to over-intellectualise the benefits for specific people. Having said this, it is important to note that Inclusion must focus it’s aims at marginalized groups and individuals in order to change social injustices- these targeted areas need attention- things don’t just happen on their own if you wish for it.
Ultimately, Inclusion is a social transaction because Inclusion is about the whole- not just the few. It’s how we can we all affect and instigate change for those around us and also, really importantly, for ourselves. Responsibility lies with everyone- it lies not just with you, but with your peers and with the people who want to access your spaces - and I firmly believe that this responsibility is something to feel empowered by and enjoyed.
We all have differences and they are to be celebrated, not feared. But also as human beings we have commonality – we all seek purpose, a greater sense of self-worth and a greater humanity. That’s the feeling behind it. That’s the substance behind the statistics. So the more we can get to grips with that truth- the greater the creativity, the productivity and the accessibility of the work we do, the lives we lead and the relationships we have.
The system is not fixed. The system changes shape- it’s fluid- we all move with it.
So to return to the initial image of the improviser who walks into an unknown void, but with a history worth recognising. This is simply a metaphor for the spaces we create in society. Spaces where the powerful and powerless operate; spaces where despite prior experience and perspective, some are excluded and rendered voiceless, with no respect given to their stories that brought them there. It’s what we are reading in the news, it’s what is happening in government spaces and it what happens in every day life. So as far as I can with the next few crucial years following some major political events, I’m going to be a part of the change I want to see.