3.5. Why Inclusion Matters

It’s fine to encourage strong group identities. But doing it through force and exclusion isn’t the answer.

People want to feel like they belong. They want to feel like part of a community. They want to feel inspired and energized by their common beliefs and values.

Those are all totally normal, healthy desires. But as often as those desires bring us together…they also, ironically, keep us apart.

It’s an issue of group boundaries.

Who belongs to “my” group, “my” community?

What characteristics or qualifications does somebody have to have, before you’ll consider them “one of us?”

Groups have to figure out, collectively, how demanding their standards for inclusion should be.

On one hand, the more inclusive they are, the bigger and more powerful the community will be.

But on the other hand, the more exclusive they are, the more tightly-knit the community will be.

So there’s often a tradeoff between quantity and quality, inclusivity and exclusivity, size and cohesion.

That’s why so many groups pay lip service to inclusivity, saying: “we welcome everybody.” When, in fact, a closer look reveals that there’s actually a pretty lengthy and daunting list of all the beliefs, opinions, and actions that are required, in order to be a member in good standing.

That’s why, in so many groups, they’re simultaneously trying to swell their numbers, and at the same time drive out or convert the people who are too neutral, too open-minded, or too accommodating on the issues that matter most.

That’s why, in so many groups, there are constant discussions about what you have to think, feel, say, and do in order to be a “real” or “true” member of the group.

I think we need to be really skeptical when the groups we belong to try to cultivate an “us versus them” mentality, more narrowly define who’s worthy to belong, and try to push out or shame the marginal members into toeing the party line.

It’s a crude trick, designed to increase solidarity and feelings of belonging and distinctiveness.

It’s a win-win for the sanctimonious, self-righteous types, who get to get up on their soapbox and increase their standing in the group by railing against the insufficiently committed. But it comes at a great cost: sowing internal conflict, suppressing diversity, and excluding people in increasing numbers. Often, those kinds of crusades alienate as many people as they inspire.

So don’t let anybody tell you you aren’t good enough to belong to their group!

Don’t let the purists, the ideologues, or the extremists push you out or shame you for not believing exactly as they do.

Who are they to tell you what it means to be a good Christian or atheist, a good liberal or conservative, a good capitalist or socialist? Who is anyone?

Nobody owns those labels.

Nobody gets to define what you have to think, feel, say, or do to call yourself any of those things…certainly not the loudest, most extreme, most divisive believers.

This is a really heated, divisive time. And so the pressure to close ranks, impose orthodoxy, and make “our way or the highway” ultimatums is really great.

But those kinds of tactics are only going to make things more heated and divisive.

It’s fine to encourage strong group identities. But doing it through force and exclusion isn’t the answer.

So be inclusive. And be proud of your beliefs—even if you don’t believe everything the diehards do.


This is the 49th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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