I hear the word “inclusive” used a lot in certain circles – those with liberal leanings and certain religious and denominational settings. And yet, in spite of how we might frequently use of the word, our behavior sometimes suggests that we might not be so very inclusive deep at our core. It is a very real and human characteristic to want to be with like-minded people. In fact, I know a man who wrote a song with lyrics that affirm this very notion. And a lot of us feel at home in certain inclusive circles for that very reason – for the most part we find a large number of like-minded individuals with whom we can share ideas and swap tidbits, about books and articles, and magazines and lectures that resonate with us and that our fellows might like as well. There is a cozy camaraderie. And cultural diversity makes for more variety in the mix.
And I suppose it is also human to get uncomfortable when someone introduces an element or idea that is not quite our cup of tea. We are uneasy, tense, twitchy. But in the spirit of being inclusive, I think it is worth spending a few moments examining what exactly it is that is causing that knee jerk response, that word or phrase or behavior that gets our hackles up. That might sound like a corny mid-Westernism, or like bad grammar. However, hackles are the long, slender feathers on the neck of a bird, or certain hairs on the backs of some domestic animals, like dogs. Many animals, such as dogs and wolves, instinctively raise their hackles when annoyed, threatened or scared. In animal behavior it is done, presumably, to make the animal look larger and more menacing itself, perhaps to frighten off prey. And we are members of the animal kingdom and our similar occasional reactions of negativity might be akin to feeling aggressively irritated or fearful. This reminds us that we are part of the animal kingdom.
But, since we are “thinking animals” we have a unique opportunity to note the response and ponder – What is happening here, and why am I fearful? What is making my heart race or raising my blood pressure? Is it something someone said, or failed to say? Is it an idea, a concept, someone’s body language or choice of words? Am I being attacked? Well, if I’m not being attacked, then what the heck is going on? Aaaah, someone has a different point of view. Why in the world would that make me feel tense?
I like to hear my own opinions voiced back to me as much as the average person. It is affirming. But I am also not big on conflict, so sometimes I’d rather just let a different opinion slide by without comment, rather than getting into a verbal affray. I’ve decided I’m going to pick my battles. I don’t want to be known as the one who disagrees no matter what. I don’t feel I have to have the last word all the time. There is a fine line between tolerance and selling out. Sometimes it is absolutely imperative to speak up and speak out – when a child is being bullied or an animal mistreated or a baby left in a hot car while mom just runs in the 7-11 for a minute. And sometimes you can be silent, even though you feel a slight pressure on one of your buttons, as someone voices a political position not your own, a faith position not your own, or a food preference not your own.
Omnivores and vegans, dog lovers and cat lovers, believers and non-believers, lovers of mayo and Miracle Whip, Coke and Pepsi lovers, fashionistas and practicers of grunge unkemptness, liberals and conservatives, Bach lovers and Jimmy Buffet fans – surely we can all get along! The next time you feel one of your buttons being depressed or a hackle starting to twitch – think twice, examine the cause and the consequence, and decide that perhaps you can stretch your inclusive mind and heart to be just a bit more expansive. It might even be worthy of making a resolution. After all, it is still early in the year. And think of our UU principles. The word “inclusive” isn’t there in actuality but the spirit of that word runs deep within them, nevertheless. And if we practice, it might come to run deep in our hearts and behavior as well.