Being inclusive is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. There is immense value in having opinions and suggestions from individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences and a wide range of areas of expertise.
In recent years, I have quietly observed a common theme in spaces that are claiming to be inclusionary and a “safe space.” I have seen professionals in an array of fields, feel safe enough to speak freely, only to speak ill of entire communities, faiths and politicians. Seriously, I’ve heard a speaker say that values from a specific religion have been the downfall of a country. And it was said with such ease and bitter reproach that it was very evident, this individual speaks like this in front of others often. Inclusive? I think not.
Here in the good ol’ south, we have this cultural thing known as “mixed company.” This could be composed of people that are not your immediate family members or circle of friends. For example, someone mentioning personal family business with complete strangers would entice a very disdainful “I can’t believe she said that in mixed company” from your southern guests. Obviously, I am not suggesting that one is entitled to say all sorts of things as long as it is not in “mixed company.” On the contrary, I would argue that one should be intentional in one’s word choice and message in every situation, regardless of who is or is not present.
For example, a group can come together to speak ill about someone else. They are inclusive, sure, many people of all walks of life may join in on this hateration, if you will. Do not assume you know everything about an individual. As I’ve mentioned in the past on several occasions such as Buyer Persona: Prelude to a Personal Conversation with Your Customer, “regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation and identity, spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, your customer can be unique in their opinions on any topic at hand. One’s combination of political point of view, skillset, communication style, profession, languages spoken and religion can make one an outlier on a graph.”
It isn’t enough to be inclusive; you must be free of exclusionary language.
Words like never and always, though opposite in meaning, are extremely limiting in that they present the sentence as an unwavering certainty. “You never help me.” “You always forget to put the toaster away.” “No one thinks like that.” “They are always late to meetings.” “They mess up my breakfast order every time.” Using I statements creates a sense of self-responsibility whereas you statements can cause defensiveness. Let’s rephrase the examples we just used. “I often feel like I don’t have extra help.” “I have been seeing the toaster on the counter lately.”
Inclusionary words such as sometimes, often, and occasionally leave room for experiences that fall outside of the norm and do not dramatize the reality of the situation. “I sometimes do that.” “Some people think like that.” “They often have meetings.” “He has been forgetful lately.” “We will go with her proposal this time.”
Oh, is that what we’re doing?
Going back to the example from earlier. “Christian values have been the downfall of the country.” This individual is more than welcome to arrive at this conclusion, it is, indeed, a free country, after all. If they really felt compelled to say this to the group, though that was not the topic at hand, they could’ve phrased it differently. “Would you consider that some Christian values may have contributed to a decline in Western societies? “You might wonder, what is the role of Christian values in the American government?” “Consider the possibility that Christian values may have had adverse results throughout the nation’s history.” The latter statements, though not entirely free of assumptions and generalizations, are, at the very least, not blanket statements and are phrased in a way that leave room for debate and fruitful conversation. At the very least, one may be ready to hear that individual present their argument in an effective way with an open mind. One doesn’t have to be Christian to feel the sheer weight of those statements; replace “Christian values” with any faith, sexuality or racial group and it is equally jarring.
The whole point of inclusion is not to force everyone to think the exact same way; in fact, that is, by definition, not the point. And yet, it is far too easy to slip into language that offends and excludes entire groups of people.
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