Being left out is not a nice feeling. We might have all experienced it at some point or the other – during our school or college days, at work, while moving to a new city or sometimes even when becoming a part of a new family. It happened probably because we were not from the same background as the rest of the people around us. Maybe we differed in terms of social status, culture, religion, language or mindset. Whatever it was, at the end of the day, it did not feel good – it affects us and brings down our self-confidence.
Exclusion also happens in various other scenarios.
- Mentally and physically disabled people face exclusion often.
- The elderly are excluded when they have physical limitations.
- Single parents, widows and divorcees are viewed with disapproval by some sections of society.
- There is a large section of our population that faces exclusion – simply put, people who do not comply with society’s notion of what is acceptable often face exclusion.
Inclusion and Diversity Is Essential
- Social exclusion is a huge problem that affects a person’s mental health and results in depression and anxiety. However, its ill-effects are not limited to health alone. We lose out on a lot of other benefits when we close our minds.
- When we close our social circle, we lose out on learning from other people’s experiences and opinions; we become more intolerant.
- Bullying is a form of exclusion and we all know how harmful that can be.
- Looking at the bigger picture, stressing on inclusive policies will help generate more job opportunities for the people who are routinely marginalized. This will help break the poverty trap and contribute to the economic growth of a nation.
Inclusivity Starts from Childhood
Teach children to be inclusive and start with the small things which actually make quite a big difference.
- Set an Example: Children are watching our actions and imbibing our values. When we treat people who are not economically well off in a kind manner, our children will follow suit. How we greet or respond to others in our neighborhood makes an impression on them as well. We can even take some time to introspect and check if unconsciously we are indulging in biased behaviour.
- Teach Children Empathy: Children might hold back from interacting with others who seem different from them. It is up to parents to explain that differences are not barriers and by explaining diversity to them in terms they understand, we can take a step towards sowing the seeds of inclusivity. For example, while having a chat with your daughter about her day at school, also enquire about her friends and other kids. Encourage her to include the kids who don’t have many friends and seem lonely.
- Story Books Can Help: Children’s books are a great way to get them to understand differences in races, culture, language, etc. Especially non-fiction books that involve true stories about children will make quite an impact subconsciously.
- Teach Your Children to Withstand Peer Pressure: Sometimes a child might exclude another kid just because her friends are doing it. Courage is needed to stand up to friends and parents need to encourage their children to not only stand up to peer pressure but also to point out wrongdoings.
- Teach Children to Appreciate Uniqueness: This refers to uniqueness in themselves as well as others. When children begin to understand this, they will not only value themselves and feel more self-confident, but they will also learn to appreciate others who are different from them.
- Bring Children Up with the Right Values: Attributes like kindness, integrity and honesty are what we should teach our children to hold in high regard. Focus less on material possessions and they will automatically become more inclusive children.
- Widen the Friend Circle: When children are exposed to children other than those whom they meet only at school, their social perspective widens. So, parents can encourage their children to join or take part in activities they haven’t tried before, to meet new friends. Parents should check out the class themselves before enrolling the child in something new just to make sure that their child is safe.
- Teach Children the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships: Sometimes, children might misunderstand inclusivity as having to put up with other children’s misbehaviour. This is not what inclusivity is. If the child is being treated badly, it is in no way acceptable and we also need to teach children that having boundaries is absolutely fine.
Inclusion is a process that will take time – it involves changing mindsets, breaking stereotypes and unlearning many things. When we start early with our children, we are that much closer to a pathway towards a kinder world and these days, the world could do with a little more kindness and understanding.