We belong together
By Abby Read, MS, RDN, LD
Wellness Coach and Program Coordinator
Methodist Health System
The desire to belong and feel a sense of security and connection with others is a fundamental human need. If it wasn’t so important, we would all be living solitary lives. Instead, it is integral to how we organize ourselves: creating communities, families, groups, and organizations where people feel connected.
There are three terms that come to mind when we think about the value of connection in our lives and our workplaces: diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Each of these terms holds its own distinct quality. Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a purposeful behavior, and belonging is an emotional outcome. Most people have a solid understanding of diversity, but inclusion and belonging are more abstract and can be hard to identify.
Don’t count me out
To better understand inclusion, it helps to highlight the opposite: exclusion. Imagine feeling excluded from a group because of the color of your skin, your gender, your age, your religion, your accent, or your appearance. Maybe you don’t have to imagine it; you’ve felt it firsthand. The feeling of exclusion and isolation from a group happens through a culmination of words, actions, and behaviors from a person or group. Neuroscience researchers have found that exclusion lights up the same region of the brain as physical pain. If you have experienced exclusion for any reason, it has likely made a lasting impact on you and shaped your perception in many ways.
Our ability to include those around us is affected by our unconscious biases. All of us have them, but they’re considered unconscious because we often don’t realize we have them, and they drive our behaviors and thoughts. Each of us sees very little of the world around us. We see what we are oriented to and what falls within our frame of reference (where we live, how we grew up). This has nothing to do with intelligence or education — it’s all about the limits of our human perception.
“We see what we look for, and we look for what we know.” –Goethe
When we take time to ask ourselves, “How much do I really know about this?” or “Am I being fair in judging this person without knowing much about them or their circumstances?” we create space for self-awareness and an open mind.
The goal is to cultivate belonging for ourselves and those around us. Belonging is the feeling of being a part of something, the ability to make meaningful contributions, and feeling valued as a person. Developing a culture of inclusion and belonging on teams and in the workplace is essential to unleashing creativity, innovation, collaboration, and change.
How can we be more inclusive?
- Listen to understand. Let go of your own train of thought and fully listen to others.
- Assume positive intent. Choose to believe that a person means well or is operating to the best of their ability without the intent to harm others.
- Recognize your impact. Realize that your actions and words can have an impact on those around you, and commit to being more aware of your own biases.
- Replace judgement with curiosity. Ask thoughtful questions, and give others the opportunity to offer their perspective.
- Choose compassion. Know that you may never fully understand someone’s perspective because you haven’t walked in their shoes.
Feeling a sense of belonging is part of our overall well-being. Creating inclusive, open-minded environments starts with courageous behaviors and getting outside our comfort zones. It takes time and practice, but in an inclusive culture, everyone reaps the rewards.
If you’re looking for an organization that is committed to being inclusive of all its employees, take a look at Methodist Health System. Visit us at Jobs.MethodistHealthSystem.org.
© Methodist Health System