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.