By Cortney Huber
Every time I’ve moved to Provo it felt like moving home—whether coming here for the first time as a reluctant 3rd grader, or a lifetime later, with my husband and four kids, returning after an extended educational and training period. With all of the family, friends, and memories built in, Provo felt safe, welcoming, and natural-- we belonged.
We have thrived over many years in the community we’ve enjoyed here. Recently, we challenged it. After a long, thoughtful, and painful struggle, my husband and I, along with our kids, decided to leave the church that had been the heart of our community and network. But we stayed in Provo, in our neighborhood, in our family. We wanted to preserve relationships with neighbors and ward members. Our church decision isolated us and complicated all of our relationships. We tried to be very open and authentic about our decision, so instead of just quietly disappearing, we reached out with a letter to family, friends and many neighbors, explaining our choice. The responses we received varied. Reaction to this kind of news is a complicated and individual calculation.
The best replies made us feel valued and included. They expressed empathy about our painful journey, offered love, and reaffirmed their intention of continuing our relationship. One friend asked for feedback about some issues she was thinking through, showing she still valued and trusted my opinions and judgment. Another said, “I never felt more connected to you than I did when I read your letter explaining your church decision,” not because she could relate to my struggle but because she appreciated the openness and vulnerability. Another said, “I got your letter. I’m sorry for your pain. Let’s go for a walk and you can tell me more.” Some family members said, “We read your letter. We love you. Can we come talk so we can better understand your choice?” Even expressions of sadness offered us a chance to connect with people and deepen our relationship, as long as they could accept and respect our decision.
People who responded in the ways that were most meaningful to us had found it possible to remove fear from their reaction, and by doing this, they communicated to us that we weren’t a threat to them, that they still wanted us close. Author and social scholar Brene Brown said, “We are connected to each other in a profound way and the thing that moves us away from that faster than anything else...is fear.” Instead of coming to us with fear, these people offered us something much more productive:
Belonging is an important human need—not merely a want or desire—to feel accepted and claimed. The lack of it brings detrimental consequences to health and well-being. Child welfare advocate Amelia Franck Meyer highlighted this in a 2016 TEDx Talk: “When we can’t connect, we don’t belong. And when we don’t belong, we have no protection of our tribe and our brain acts as though our survival is at risk, because it is.” There are innumerable social and individual benefits that come from belonging in a strong community-- from a greater ability to contribute, having an increased sense of purpose and resilience, higher personal achievement, to lower violence and crime, and improved educational outcomes. The benefits are significant and varied.
We strengthen our community when we remove fear from our interactions and genuinely connect with each other with respect and acceptance—when we help build belonging. I’m sure many of our friends and family had trouble finding the “right things” to say to us. But we always appreciated a sincere effort to show acceptance and love— removing fear to expand the parameters of belonging.
Cortney Huber and her husband, Brad, have four kids and are longtime Provo residents. Their shared love of travel and adventure has recently taken them to New Zealand, where they will be living for the next year.
Now, consider moving, but make it during a pandemic.
Last summer, my family moved to Provo, to a new-to-us home and neighborhood, and we love being here. It seems strange to even be saying this because we’ve lived here for seven-and-a-half months, but: we look forward to meeting our neighbors. Rather, we look forward to getting to know them, to putting more faces with names.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and while some may describe the last year or so as being desperate, I’d call it extraordinary. Met with the challenges presented, most everyone I know has stepped up, including stepping out of their comfort zones, to meet the challenges of the unknown. As for me and my house, we’ve been the recipients of such efforts as these extraordinary times have yielded extraordinary measures of kindness and generosity.
Individuals, couples, and families (all masked and safely distanced) have knocked on our door to welcome us to the neighborhood. We’ve been the recipients of plates of cookies, loaves of bread, flowers. One woman stopped by with a basket of fresh vegetables harvested from her own garden that morning. A family on our block favored us by delivering not only delicious homemade soup, but also Welcome signs made by their children, which signs I see every morning on my refrigerator. Complete strangers have made an effort to cross the street to say hello and give an introduction.
Last Thanksgiving one of my life’s dearest friends passed away, and just three days later, a woman who I had long admired but (at that point) known only casually drove an hour to deliver flowers and homemade matzo ball soup, which, as she taught me, “has a long history of feeding those who are hurting, who feel defeated, who are reeling from pain and loss.” The meaning behind that -- the time, the effort, the love involved -- helped to heal my heart.
In January my husband and I felt utterly defeated when we tested positive for COVID-19. Yet, as more people learned of our situation we were again shown extraordinary measures of genuine kindness in the form of loving messages, and deliveries and drop-offs of helpful supplies. These words and acts provided sunshine and respite during a grim season for us. The effects of those actions have been memorable, lasting, and a source of inspiration for us to be better at looking for ways we can help others.
I’m confident that anyone reading this could come up with similar anecdotes from their own lives regarding their experiences and interactions during the pandemic. Perhaps taking some time to write them down would be a good idea, maybe especially taking note of what could easily be seen as, “small things,” which we all know typically lead to extraordinarily bigger impacts than could be imagined.
As life increasingly becomes more social, we’ll all have a chance to interact in ways we’ve longed for over the past year or so. This presents us with opportunities to be more inclusive, more welcoming, more interested and invested in each other. When my family and I moved last summer, we didn’t get a chance to say the goodbyes we wanted to, in the way we wanted to, and the same applies to being able to meet our neighbors when we arrived in our new home. Still, like everyone else facing the challenges of the last year, we’re doing our best, and we’re grateful for others who have been creative, kind, patient, and shown genuine concern for the new family on the corner -- what are their names again?
Jenny Dye loves writing, but not writing her own bios. She is a Zumba fitness instructor, actor, and podcaster. Jenny has been a blogger since 2005, which has led to many professional opportunities, including working with The United Nations Foundation, and as a National Advocate and speaker for Shot@Life, which works to get life-saving vaccines to children around the world. Jenny and her husband John just celebrated 4 years of marriage, and together they have 11 kids, ages 27 to 12.
By Kristen Cramer
Do you ever feel like you don’t belong? I’d wager we have all felt like that at some point…or at many points. I know I have. Whether it’s in school, a club, religious organization, political party, sports team, friend group, neighborhood, or something else, we just don’t always feel like we belong.
To belong to something suggests a feeling of fitting in, or being in the right place. We aren’t going to feel like we belong everywhere. This world is full of such a variety of wonderful people with unique personalities, interests, cultures, causes, backgrounds, and dreams that there’s no way we will always feel belonging in the same situations. That’s okay! What’s important (in my experience) is that you have a place or places that you DO feel like you belong.
Before moving to Provo, I considered Utah County, and more specifically Provo, as the last place I would want to live. I thought of it as an enclave of BYU students and alumni; a homogenous sea of like minded people living similar lives and cheering for the Cougars. Work brought our family here (ever so reluctantly), and here we have stayed for almost 12 years. While this certainly isn’t the most diverse place to live, it is a far cry from the stereotype I had of the city. I have found people I connect with, my kids have found friends, and we have found a community full of things our family loves. We love the river trail, all the parks, the proximity to the mountains, the people, and a chance to live near many of the places we frequent. We have found people willing to welcome us and we have even found a sense of belonging here.
As newlyweds, my husband and I lived where there was immense diversity within the neighborhood. We did not have much in common with many of our neighbors including sexual orientation, nationality, marital status, age bracket, religion, and more. But you know what? We still had much in common with these people and we felt welcome, included, and a part of something bigger than ourselves. We have treasured memories of the people in this wonderful neighborhood.
Conversely, we have lived where the homogenous nature of the community was mind boggling: the vast majority of people shared our religion, race, marital status, and life stage. Yet in this community we struggled to find belonging and did not always feel welcome. There were wonderful people living in this neighborhood as well, but it was a relief when we moved.
What these experiences have taught me is you really never know where you will feel welcome or where you will find a sense of belonging. It’s up to each of us to give people and places a chance. Get to know others and explore what you have in common and learn from your differences.
I hope that everyone is able to find places and groups in which they feel welcome, valued, and where they feel a sense of belonging. Best wishes on your journeys!
Kristen Cramer has lived in Provo for over a decade. She is the wife of an amazing husband, mother to three incredible children, and is passionate about doing good. She also enjoys photography, hiking, gardening, and reading.
By Betsy Barrow
For several months in a row last year, I received emails inviting me to attend an Asian Advisory Committee Meeting for the Provo School District. I figured that I was probably receiving these emails because my youngest son was born in China and joined our family when he was 4 years old. I hoped that this advisory committee was made up of Asian parents and I was very interested in learning from them. However, as an adoptive Caucasian mother, I wasn’t sure whether I would feel like an outsider in these meetings. With each email invitation, I considered attending but could never gather the courage to show up.
Last March, shortly after many events were canceled or moved online because of the pandemic, I received another email invite, this time for a meeting over Zoom. With less distraction in my life and many questions about how recent events might affect my son, I decided to attend. I was hesitant as I pressed the link to join and waited for the host to let me in. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I explained my insecurities about attending the meeting. Immediately one of the parents exclaimed, “We have needed you!” Although I didn’t know how I might contribute, her warmth and the sentiment that I was needed gave me immediate assurance that I belonged in this group. I have reflected on how this experience made me feel many times since. This message of belonging is one that many in our community long to hear.
Erik Carter, professor of special education at Vanderbilt University, interviewed more than 500 adolescents with an intellectual disability and their parents about what helps them to flourish in their communities. These Individuals expressed needs to be present, invited, welcomed, known, accepted, supported, cared for, befriended, needed, and loved. Using the visual of a wheel, Carter illustrates how the fulfillment of these needs progressively fosters a greater sense of belonging. Although Carter’s research was specific to adolescents with disabilities, he acknowledges that these needs are universal.
(Carter, Erik. “Fostering Belonging: Inclusion, Friendship, and People with Disabilities.” Marjorie Pay Hinkley Lecture, 2018, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.)
Most of us can remember a time when we have experienced the awkward loneliness that occurs outside of belonging—times when we have felt seen but not known, present but not accepted, invited but not needed, and welcomed but not loved. As I consider my own experiences in the context of Carter’s model, I recognize that my efforts to invite and welcome, although important and sincere, often stop short of helping others to feel a true sense of belonging. Carter’s model helped me to understand why the words, “we have needed you” felt so reassuring.
I have been grateful for times in my life when neighbors, friends, and even acquaintances have found the courage to reach beyond invitations and welcomes to graciously pull me in. A short time after my late husband died by suicide in 2012, I was invited to a public event. I dreaded going but I also knew that I couldn’t stay home forever. As I entered the room filled with members of my community, a weight of overwhelming loneliness made each step feel awkward. I wished for invisibility as I walked to my seat, nervous about making people uncomfortable with my presence, knowing many people might not know what to say to me.
After sitting down, a woman on the row in front of me, whom I had met previously but did not know well, turned around and smiled. I smiled back unsure if she knew about my husband’s death. She extended her hand toward me, prompting me to reach my hand toward hers. When our hands met, she squeezed tight and mouthed the words, “I love you.” This unconditional acceptance conveyed to me that I was not alone in my grief and that I belonged to a community of people who loved me—a message that has been stored in my memory as one of the most profound acts of kindness I have ever received.
The visual created by Carter’s wheel of belonging has become a guidepost for me when reflecting on my own efforts to reach out. Inviting and welcoming comes easily to me but moving beyond these more superficial gestures requires courage and an awareness of others’ proximity. At times, our lives can feel too full or our social obligations too demanding to comprehensively address each need that Carter suggests. However, my experience with the advisory committee and my memory of being reached out to in a lonely crowd remind me that our most successful efforts to help others belong (especially those who feel on the outside of our social circles) will require us to reach beyond what is comfortable to assure others of their unconditional importance in our lives and in our community.
Betsy moved to Provo with her children six years ago. She and her husband, Jeff, were introduced to each other by one of their Edgemont neighbors; after discovering their shared love of frozen yogurt, sushi, and BYU football, they decided this was a match made in heaven. They have a blended family of 8 young-adult children who often keep them up past their bedtime. Betsy loves cooking with her family, traveling, and gardening. She will be pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at BYU next fall.
By Sherrie Hall Everett
The pandemic is changing my perspectives on so many things. It’s taught me to slow down, play in my garden more, and reinvent how I interact with family, friends and neighbors. It’s created a sense of community and connectedness in a different way...most of which occurs on Zoom.
I remember the first few weeks of the pandemic. I stepped onto my patio where I used to hear the busyness of the world rushing by in a low hum from the freeway about a mile away. It was suddenly barely audible. I noticed because of the near silence. I relished the quiet in contrast to my unusually busy, and yes, often frantic world. In the space of a few weeks, the entire world was being forced to slow down. The pandemic shifted all of us abruptly.
Our friends, our communities, and even our family interactions shifted. I loved the quieter, slower pace for me, I settled in determined to enjoy being still and becoming an introvert.
Part of the magic for me of this experience was the opportunity to really think about my interactions with others. I thought deeply about how I extended acceptance to others, and allowed others to BE who they were—in their journey, learning their things. I felt zero need to change others, to influence them one way or another. I decided to just wonder at their lives and experiences and see their individual magic. I took a welcome personal break from Facebook — other than work for clients — and appreciated the new pace.
I got quiet. I listened hard to the silence. I tried to encourage and connect with others through calls and texts. But then COVID-19 hit close.
My four brothers and I discovered a new reliance and belonging as we met over Zoom for days to help our elderly parents through a prolonged bout of COVID-19. Helping both of them survive and cope, for the longest time they had ever been separated in their lives, was an act of increased belonging and loving that each family member gave with unmeasured generosity.
We relied on each other’s expertise, on our different communication styles, and varied approaches to problem solving and ways of thinking. We leaned into each other’s quirks and triggers. And loved. And chose patience. And expressed gratitude. COVID actually blessed our family. We learned just how smart, capable and essential each of us siblings were to this situation. We learned more about respect and resilience.
So, what does that have to do with community and neighborhoods—and welcoming and belonging?
I think when we see those around us from the start as smart, capable, kind, struggling, hopeful, and striving, we extend an invitation to welcome and to belong. We allow for mistakes, growth, and more connection. I’ve been thinking as I watch Zoom church, that I’ve lost track of the new people joining my neighborhood and community. I’ve yearned to unify us in some socially distanced, yet acceptable way.
I think I have discovered something I hope is wildly successful. I’m a passionate gardener, and this year I’ve sown hundreds of seeds in milk jugs. As they sprout and grow, I’ve loved the diversity and variety and the potential each seedling has to grow into something magnificent.
I want to share them with neighbors, with a note thanking them for sharing their lives with me in our neighborhood. I’m eager to express how much I love their energy, seeing them walk their dogs, bike with their children, and leave empty milk jugs on the porch for me to sow more seeds. I want to make a space of connection and belonging and most of all acceptance.
I’ve been grateful for neighborly help wrangling trees, pulling out countless stems of runaway mint by willing young people who have filled my yard with laughter, hard work, and kindness. We’ve built community.
So, let’s hope the last part of that winter sowing milk jug seed experience will result in little red cups of poppy seedlings that I can share with neighbors—and who knows, perhaps I’ll see pots on porches scattered throughout the neighborhood that connect all of us to feeling like we all deeply belong.
Sherrie trained her entire life for the pandemic not missing a beat working from home within arm’s reach of the back door. That door opens dozens of times a day for two adorable pups that beckon her into a garden that was guiltily neglected during many years in politics and public service. It’s making a comeback little by little. She has big plans to share that garden. Follow @sherriesgarden on Instagram and Facebook to see the progress. Introversion has its benefits.
by Meradith Christensen
I have been consistently practicing yoga for over two years now. As I have observed the practice as a student from studio to studio, city to city, something that has stood out to me is the diversity of the people it attracts who are all coming to their mats seeking a similar experience; people from all walks of life, all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds who come together for a common purpose. Oftentimes, I will have a particularly meaningful savasana--a typical final pose of a yoga practice intended to be meditative--and I’ll finish with tears in my eyes. I’ll get up to notice people I’ve never met before have tears streaming as well, and there we all are as strangers, allowing ourselves to experience an emotional release from the stresses of life and blubber there together in the dimly lit room. And each person belongs.
If there is any discipline that I’ve come across that epitomizes the principles of “welcoming and belonging” regardless of differences, it is yoga. Some of the participants in the studio are very new to the practice and serve the others in the room by allowing the fellow newcomers to feel they have a right to belong. Others are experienced yogis and serve as an inspiration to fellow participants of what one might aspire to with patience and discipline. Regardless of experience or skill level, the sense of openness and camaraderie is so very palpable. It’s one of my favorite parts!
While recognizing early on in my own practice the “warm and fuzziness” of yoga, as I became more mindful of my own inner dialogue, I was surprised and ashamed at times with how negative and unwelcoming I could be to myself. About a year into regularly attending classes, I started thinking, Wow, I’d love to teach this. I’d love to help others feel at home in this. I’d love to learn it well enough to teach it. However. Every time I had those thoughts, I would subconsciously and immediately shut them down. You could never teach this. You’re not nearly flexible enough. You’re not nearly agile or graceful enough. You don’t own enough matching sports bras and leggings. You are so not that type. Then I would sort of just accept that as truth and leave it alone.
Over months of practice, an interesting thing started happening inside of me. This punitive voice telling me what I couldn’t do started to make me mad. I started talking back to it and defending myself as to why I actually could teach yoga. On a side note--Don’t try to call me crazy and act like you’ve never held a full-fledged argument in your own mind! It can easily turn into a WWE style wrestling match in fact-- that's when things get really crazy.
In what areas of our life are we self-sabotaging? In what areas is our own inner dialogue making us feel unwelcome and unworthy and therefore holding us back? In our social circles? In romantic relationships? In the workplace? In church? In parenthood? On the ski slopes? On the quidditch field? How are we sabotaging our own dreams and aspirations? How are we standing in the way of our own sense of belonging?
Part of overcoming that negativity for me in this situation came with an acknowledgement that I have unique gifts and attributes to bring to the table. This applies to each of us in all of our endeavors. A favorite quote of mine by Karen Walrond is so beautiful in its simplicity but something we all need to hear and remember, especially as women: “There is room for you. Nobody can do it with your voice, with your experience, with your insight.” I’ve also come to learn from experience that conquering one fear in one area of life and “just doing it” even when--especially when-- we don’t feel like we’ve got what it takes or somehow like we don’t belong, can give us confidence to do more of what scares us in any area. Regardless of what the outcome is each time, it’s totally worth doing for that value alone. I’ve now led several yoga sessions and have many more to lead ahead of me. Sometimes I still look around the room and have those “everyone’s looking at me” moments, but then we just breathe. (Nice perk about leading a yoga session, you can gather your thoughts as long as you need by telling the participants to “just keep breathing,” wink, wink.) I’ll never be the most flexible instructor, but I have a knack for loving people and I find so much joy in sharing what I love with others. We don’t have to try to fit into a certain mold. Sometimes we just have to choose to believe we belong.
Meradith Christensen is a Provo resident for the past 15 years and is a wife and mother to four daughters and one son, ages 3-12. She graduated with a BA degree in Spanish and is a soon-to-be certified yoga instructor. Meradith loves to travel the world, loves meeting new people, and has a special flair for Latin America. She loves to sing, write, cook, tell stories, dance, impromptu Riverdance, and thinks her jokes are the funniest of all jokes.
My friend Alex is a great listener and an inquisitive ally. He sincerely listens to all kinds of people, to all kinds of stories, and to all kinds of opinions. At his core, Alex is an empathetic scientist, asking questions to understand, free from prejudice. He’s also a real scientist, currently earning a PhD in microbiology at BYU.
More than once I’ve told Alex about sexism I’ve experienced, and even though he can’t completely relate, he acknowledges the hurt I have felt. Alex doesn’t accept my experience as half true with caveats and disclaimers. He doesn’t paint over unpleasantness or dismiss it. He doesn’t superficially validate me and then dole out advice. He’s not impatiently waiting to launch into his own lived experiences, or competing to get the last word. Alex just sits with the situation and reflects with me. He doesn’t pretend he knows better or knows how I feel, he shows humility.
In a 2004 paper, Humility as a Source of Competitive Advantage, Dusya Vera and Antonio Rodriguez-Lopez described common misconceptions about humility. Though humility is often associated with timidity and seen as a weakness, the authors argue the opposite, “that humility offers strategic value for firms by furnishing organizational members with a realistic perspective of themselves, the firm, and the environment.”
This “realistic perspective” allows us to see other people and ourselves with more clarity, and makes us more accepting of different people and new ideas. Humility allows us to see and understand the experiences or environment of others, even when we haven’t personally experienced that. It can help us to overcome the bias that “all we see is all there is”. Humility and meekness are essential as we grapple with the local and global impacts of racism and sexism, because it offers each of us a window into someone else’s life.
Just last week Yoshiro Mori, former Japanese prime minister, resigned as the head of the 2020 Olympic organizing committee after making sexist remarks about senior female Olympic officials. His lack of humility undermined his own contributions and led to his controversial departure. Without meekness we won’t be able to solve or even recognize the problems of inequality, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, etc., we may even become part of the problem. Meekness and humility allow us to accept diversity, not as a threat, but as an opportunity.
When humility encompasses sincerity, open-mindedness, and self-awareness we can more easily see past disagreeable positions and personalities. Eleanor Roosevelt described how to live with humility and meekness: “A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”
Thanks to my friend and neighbor Alex, for being a great listener, an inquisitive ally, and an empathetic scientist. Let’s all keep experimenting with meekness and humility.
Shannon Ellsworth is the Community Development Manager at Sunrise Engineering, serving clients with land use policy and environmental solutions. Shannon serves on the Provo City Council, on the Governor’s Rural Partnership Board, and on multiple nonprofit boards. She earned an MBA from BYU and a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University.
by Jennifer Partridge
Last week as I was coming home, I stopped at the neighborhood set of mailboxes. It is located next to an open area where the kids like to play. As I was getting out of my car, I heard a young voice exclaiming excitedly, “I thought that was you!” I looked over to see one of the 11 year-old neighbors and her friend running over to me with big smiles on their faces. As I got my mail, we talked for a minute or two, and then they went back to playing as I got in my car and headed home. That small encounter made my entire day!
What was so special about it? Well, first, I was flattered that a kid in the neighborhood was excited to see this old lady! Second, she took a moment to notice me and then to intentionally leave what she was doing to say hello. She didn’t give me a verbal compliment and we didn’t talk about anything profound. But her actions told me she cared and we made a short yet powerful connection that day.
According to Brene Brown, connection is:
“The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
To me, this is the essence of kindness, and it is exactly what happened to me that afternoon at the mailboxes. That moment of feeling valued definitely strengthened me! Each of us desires to be seen, heard, and valued. When someone makes an effort to show us they truly care, it lifts and strengthens us. Kindness doesn’t have to be a grand act of service, but instead consists of intention and effort.
Connection is important in our homes. I find when my kids are having a hard time, things go better not when I talk about their poor behavior, but when I take time to look in their eyes and do something to show I care about them as an individual. Connection is important in our neighborhoods. When neighbors know each other and value each other, they’re more likely to do things that will enhance the neighborhood and overlook the small things that don’t matter. Connection is important in our community. When we feel seen, heard, and valued, we can have productive dialogues regarding issues we disagree on and work together to find solutions.
How do we create connection? First, make it a priority. Ask yourself daily, “What can I do to connect with someone today?” Second, find small ways to show people that you value them and truly care about them. Send a text, make a phone call, write a note, deliver a treat. In situations with strangers, such as at the store, strike up a conversation. Now, I’m not suggesting you need to talk to every person you see while shopping! But when you’re standing right across from the cashier, you could very well make his or her day by making a small effort to say hello. How many people come through their line and don’t say anything? What a difference you can make to show them you see them as a fellow human being by talking to them!
One of the best ways to create connection is by asking sincere questions. Whether the other person is a stranger, an acquaintance, a coworker, friend, or family member, you can show interest in them by asking questions and then truly listening to understand. Sometimes in our conversations we tend to “one-up” each other. Although often not intentional, when they share something that reminds us of something in our own life, we start talking all about our experience and forget to listen to THEIR experience. Ask questions with genuine interest in making a connection!
What prevents us from building connections with others? Sometimes we worry that we will come off as “fake” and so we don’t even try. We get scared that we will be rejected or misunderstood. When you feel that way, remind yourself that people can sense sincerity. When you are trying to connect with someone, when you are desiring to learn more about them and to value them, you have nothing to lose! They will feel your love and will be strengthened by your small act of kindness, and you, too, will “derive sustenance and strength” from your efforts to build the relationship.
Jennifer Partridge is a wife and mom to 3 boys and 1 girl, ages 11-19. She currently serves on the Provo School District Board of Education and is also passionate about kindness, connection, and building community. Jennifer loves chocolate, Disneyland, date nights at all of the amazing Provo restaurants, working out, and traveling.
by Rebecca Nielsen
There’s a lot to say and think about when it comes to kindness and inclusion. But this time I’m going to skip the deep thoughts and profound statements and give you the moral of this story right away: Inclusion is very important because exclusion feels horrible.
I don’t need to write anything quoteworthy for you to understand how much it stinks to be excluded and how great it feels to be included. If you are a living, breathing human, then I’d place a large bet on the fact that you have experienced both exclusion and inclusion in your lifetime. You know the feelings of anger, despair and sadness that come with being left out of something. You also know the feelings of joy, excitement and peace that come from feeling like you belong.
I learned of these feelings early in life when my two older sisters would not let me join their private cousin-club, “The Up-chicks.” I was banned from the exclusive meetings held in the oh-so-elegant rafters of my grandparent’s garage and I was sure no other 5 year old had ever been so rejected. And in fifth grade the leader of our girl-gang randomly decided that she didn’t like me anymore. I was pestered, then ignored, then assaulted with some of the harshest words I’d ever heard. And I was pretty sure no one’s feelings had ever been more hurt as I cried myself to sleep that night.
On the flip side, I remember never feeling more secure than the time that my girlfriends and I laughed our hearts out late into the night after ordering nothing but water cups in the drive-through. We ding-dong-ditched people and left the cups on their porches. That night the “Water Bandits” were born and so was an indestructible friendship that was solid, safe, and real.
You and I could both name many examples of inclusion and exclusion in our lives that range from the small and insignificant to the soul-crushing or blissfully joyous instances that are too complex and sacred to write about. And while I would never give up the valuable life-lessons that each side has provided me, I still can’t help but wonder why we voluntarily hurt others by excluding them? When we know exactly how awful it feels, why do we let ourselves seal a fate of exclusion for others? When we know how amazing it feels to be included, why don’t we choose to make sure others become a part of something wonderful?
I don’t know why human nature compels us to facilitate exclusivity. But I do know that humans are adaptable and changeable. We do have the ability to recognize weaknesses and overcome them. And we absolutely do have the capacity to use our positivity in life as motivation to make sure others experience the same.
As we wrap back around to where we started, I know the message here may feel oversimplified. But it really can be as simple as this: next time you feel your fears, insecurities and doubts keeping you from including others, I challenge you to instead open your heart, expand your circles and step out of your comfort zone as you remember: Inclusion is very important because exclusion feels horrible.
Rebecca Nielsen is a Provo resident of 22 years, local preschool teacher, small business owner, and Provo school board member. She and her husband are raising 4 boys and they enjoy traveling and exploring the outdoors as a family. The keys to Rebecca’s heart are: a good book, sleeping in on Saturdays, chocolate covered strawberries, and a cold Dr. Pepper.
by Jennifer Lambert
Several years ago, I came across a widely shared letter written to Dear Abby, the famed advice columnist, from a group of sisters and sisters-in-law who were seeking an answer about how to deal with one of the sisters-in-law. The letter stated that the women in the family went on a vacation together each year, but one of the sisters-in-law, in their words, was just too different from everyone else, which made things awkward at times. Their solution to the sister-in-law problem was to just not include her – to take a vacation that included all the women in the family except her. Dear Abby had many things to say to this group of women, but the gist of her response was that these sisters needed to lean into their discomfort and do what they could to be more inclusive.
Most of us would probably have the same reaction that Dear Abby had because we all know what it’s like not to be invited to sit with the cool kids at lunch. We’ve all felt different or “othered” at some point in our lives, but many times we’re not aware when we’re the ones doing the othering and excluding those in our own community. How can we become more inclusive?
Our differences are what makes our community strong. Imagine you’re organizing a potluck (in pre-pandemic times, of course), but you only invite people that always make funeral potatoes. Funeral potatoes are good, but have you ever tried that pretzel jello dessert or frog eye salad? When you only include those that always bring the same thing to the table, others that have differing ideas and opinions don’t feel comfortable joining. We limit our resources when we stick to what we know and are comfortable with.
In order to be more inclusive, we need to take the time to get to know each other. We can ask sincere questions, listen to understand and avoid making assumptions and judgements about others. When we’re curious about those who are different from us, and try getting to know them with an open mind and a goal to make them feel acknowledged and valued, we’re opening ourselves and our community up for growth.
Sometimes this growth can be painful because it causes us to acknowledge our own unconscious biases. We can identify these biases within us and work toward eliminating them. As we do this, we will change how we think of, speak to and treat others who are different from us. It’s a process, but it’s not an unachievable goal. Mother Theresa, the wise woman that she was, said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things.”
Jennifer Lambert is a writer, a PTO president, a mom and a wife. She’s never met a cheese she didn’t like and doesn’t let a little lactose intolerance get in the way of achieving her dreams. Although not a native of Provo she considers it her home now, having been welcomed with open arms and ranch dressing from the BYU Creamery.