Ok, I’m splitting hairs here a little. The grammar police are screaming, “No, include is a verb, inclusion is a noun.” And they are right, grammatically.

But if we are going to get to the heart of what it means to include others, we need to think of inclusion as a verb. Because it will not matter, in the end, what we say, if it’s not backed up by what we do.

Inclusion happens when people actively include others. Think behavior, authentic conversations, genuine and meaningful interactions. Inclusion is about helping people feel comfortable enough to be who they truly are in your presence. And the more comfortable people feel, the easier it will be to include others who are different

Inclusion is a conscious action. We must choose to include. We have to engage in behavior that lets the other person in. Not just allows that person to sit on the sidelines and watch, but really lets them in. And if we have to change the game a little along the way, so be it. That’s inclusion.

How do I do it, you ask?

Use people’s names. Names matter. Imagine what our relationships could become if we intentionally and deliberately learned and used the name of each person with whom we interact. I’m not just talking about the people we work with or those that we see regularly. I’m suggesting that we learn and use the names of every person we encounter. “Thank you, Susan, for checking me out at Shop Rite today.” Or, at your favorite coffee shop, “Thank you. Have a great day, Paul.”

Teach the value of inclusion. Demonstrate it. Look the man using a wheelchair that you pass every morning in the eye and say, “Hello.” Choose a line at the grocery store for the clerk with a disability and quietly explain to your children, outside the store, that you continue to shop at this very store because of its inclusive employment practices. Walk a little farther because there are certain spots saved for people who don’t walk as well as you can on their own.

You can do it. Let people in. Choose to include. Like I said, inclusion is a verb.

Photo Credit: Alex Eylar/Flickr