We all hold multiple identities, and the intersections of these identities are what makes us whole. We all have identities that are more uniquely prominent to us, and those that might become more prominent over time and in different situations. All of these identities make us who we are, and all bring strengths and challenges.
When we’re restricted or feel like we need to hide parts of our identities due to the realities of fear or threat of violence, losing our job, being kicked out of the house, or disconnected from family, friends, and community, we retreat. We can feel isolated. Our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health suffers, and we can feel lost, angry, numb, and hopeless.
In order to feel like complete, whole people, and like our true selves, we need to be able to be, and express, all parts of ourselves. When we are able bring our full, authentic selves to work, school, our spiritual community, at home, and in the world, that’s when we thrive. That’s when we feel free. That’s when are able to be our best selves and come up with our most innovative ideas. This is because we’re not being mentally and emotionally weighed down, and our energy isn’t going to thinking about how to hide the parts that we think, or know, will not be accepted, or worse, met with violence, harassment, or discrimination. We often hide parts of ourselves at work, to the detriment of ourselves, and our workplaces. Sometimes we code-switch out of safety and to blend in.
Central to building authentic relationships is making space for, inviting, and celebrating people’s full set of identities. Another important part of creating a welcoming, inclusive environment where everyone can bring their whole, true selves is being mindful of, and proactive about, the language that’s being used. Are offensive, hurtful, or coded words being thrown around the office? It’s essential for everyone, and especially if you’re in a leadership position, to be proactive and work to eliminate microaggressions (slights directed at an individual, due to their group membership), and promote a healthier, safer, and more inclusive workplace or community space.
Encouraging a culture of inclusion and celebrating differences comes down to values. What are the values of your workplace, school, faith community, and home, and are they lived values? Living our values is where inclusion becomes reality.