There’s a foundation stone of inclusion that we don’t speak about nearly enough.
It’s identity. And strangely, it’s not about ‘the others’ – those who need to be included. Rather, it’s our own identity.
Long before we can see others as they truly are and be open to their story and all they have to offer, we have to know ourselves. Our story. Our way of thinking about the world. The good, the bad and the ugly of who we are, and how we think. Our strengths, our biases and our limiting perspectives. The things that make us feel really comfortable – like we belong – and the things that jerk us into a level of discomfort that we can barely tolerate.
So, in this current world of ‘them’ – the others – those who are right wing, left wing, right, wrong, fanatical, furious, angry, justifiably angry, outrageously unreasonable, – when the whole world is commentating on who’s right or wrong, and which country or state or leader is ‘doing well’ and who’s not and why, we thought we’d look away for a moment, pause, and understand identity – personal identity – our own identity – and how we get really clear on that, before we start judging others. After all, if we start from a judging harshly position, we take a monstrous step backwards in our capacity and appetite to be open and generous about how we include others.
There’s a host of foundational elements to our identity. How we grew up, and what we learned from family. Mostly, it’s the values and the expectations passed from generation to generation. People like us, who tell us how to be ‘us’. Occasionally, it’s a way of being that we subsequently spend the rest of our life running from, but mostly it’s the ‘right way to be us’. Our family. Our country. Our religion. Our beliefs. Our tribe. Our community. Our identity. We usually leave high school still feeling pretty smug that ‘we’ve’ got it right. That people like us are good people and people who don’t think our people are good, are wrong.
Swimming in new water
At some point, most of us head for an adventure. We choose to leave the pond we know and swim in new waters of our choosing. We take photos and learn new things. New ideas, new perspectives, new languages, and we bring home these stories of places that are different. But, we often miss the most important lesson. The most important lesson is not how different these others are, but who we are. When we’re no longer surrounded by our tribe – no longer hidden in that crowd that are just like us – what can we learn about ourselves?
Swimming in water you don’t understand
Oddly, in a world where 99% of the world’s population rarely live more than 100km from the place they were born, every single person on the mwah. team has lived in more than one country. Some of us lived overseas for work, some changed countries as kids, and others followed love. When we sat down to talk about ‘when we really understood who we each were’ – we all said ‘the time I lived in (insert a country other than Australia here) was when I really noticed some things about myself. Some I loved. Some, not so much.
And it wasn’t just about moments of realisation or reflection. It was also listening to and understanding to a perspective and way of thinking that was shared by millions (literally a whole country) but that we had never heard before.
Living in The Netherlands, I didn’t just learn about canals, wooden shoes and appel gebakken (although I did learn a lot about all three). I also learnt that Dutch are only ‘direct’ if you didn’t grow up in Australia. They’re an 8 out 10. Australians are a 9.5 on the same scale. We learnt that “hoge bomen vangen veel wind”, which translates to “tall trees catch the breeze”, is exactly the same as Australia’s Tall Poppy Syndrome. In these two countries that praise themselves for being so egalitarian, nobody likes the people who stand too tall. There’s a price to pay for ‘being equal’ and that’s that you cannot be too grand.
Living in Chicago, I didn’t just learn a love of Black Hawks and that Caramel and Cheese popcorn is seriously delicious, despite what you’d think. I also learnt that racial profiling is real, and that every time our black friends visited for dinner, they got stopped around the corner to check ID. I learnt the story of Native Americans, and realised that the Australian Indigenous people have a history much closer to Native Americans than black Americans. And I learnt I didn’t know my own history well enough. In Chicago, I learned I needed to know more about Australian history and how it impacted Australian identity.
When you swim in water that you don’t come from, you can see every drop of it. And you can see yourself – stark in the contrast.
Taking what you’ve learned about your home
But the most important lesson from living outside your tribe, is how you bring those lessons home. How do you hold on to a deeper understanding of yourself, and bring greater self-awareness and empathy back home. How do you appreciate the best of ‘home’, of your tribe, and still find space and language to challenge – not criticise – and grow. How do you subtly adjust your self-talk from ‘knowing how to do good’ to ‘making sure good is actually good enough’ and ‘where good needs to be a whole lot better’. Knowing which of your early lessons are keepers and which ones you need let go. Which ones to pass on to your kids, and which ones need to stay in history.
For all the ‘judginess’ right now
For the all the judginess right now, there’s an equal openness that’s growing every day. Sure, we all have opinions, but there’s an increasing appetite to listen. To learn. To let go. To be curious about possibility. To adjust our own identity to allow space for someone else’s story and a new perspective into our tribe.
I think the greatest lesson from knowing yourself and seeing yourself in different lights (different waters) is that while identity certainly has a strong foundation, it can grow, change, and mature into who you want to be, who the world needs you to be, and not just who you were told to be. Holding on to an identity that is immature and incomplete is as uncomfortable as changing it.
(Thinking about it, that may well be just as true for a country’s identity as it is for an individual’s, but that’s another whole conversation).
To include you, I need to know me
To include you, I need to know me and I need to know you.
And we might both need to be open to change just a little. Make a little space for each other. Expand the tribe. Learn from each other’s perspectives. Change the definitions we learnt about who’s good.
I think that might be exactly what the world needs right now.