Blog 365

Having an Attitude of Inclusiveness

Recently at our annual student leadership conference for CYT, we had a Q & A panel on issues relating to HYPE, leadership, and teen struggles in general. One topic that came up multiple times (and always does when working with student leaders) is that of cliques and how to break them down. Specifically, how does one avoid cliques but still have fun with one’s friends?

I felt compelled to write about this topic not only because I felt like we didn’t have enough time to fully address it at Expo, but also because I’ve had this experience personally in my life multiple times. I have felt like I’ve been on the outside looking in, and I’ve also found myself on the inside – feeling safe and secure, but aware that there were people on the outside looking at me, wanting to be welcomed in. Both left me feeling terribly unsure of the right path to take, and it’s been through much trial and error (and stumbling and need of grace and learning from others) that I’ve found – if not the answer, at least a more loving road to follow.

Because honestly? This isn’t just a “teen” issue. It’s a human issue. All humans, no matter their age, want to be loved, included, and welcomed. And sometimes adults forget that they can be just as exclusive as teens and children, and there’s no one to call them out on it anymore.

So what can we do about it? Forgo having close friends or groups of people we call our own? Make sure we talk to every person in a room the exact same amount of time so as not to show favoritism? Not make inside jokes or create shared memories or talk to the people we love the most?

I don’t think that’s necessarily the path that we need to take. We do need to take into consideration some of the things above, but in reality, it goes back to a heart issue. What kind of attitude is our heart having towards those around us – an attitude of exclusiveness or inclusiveness?

Jesus Himself had a core group of twelve. And in that twelve, he had a main group of three. And in that three, He had one that was “the one that Jesus loved.” Did that mean that Jesus didn’t love the others? Not hardly. But Jesus understood the human inclination to have some relationships that are closer than others, and that’s exactly what He formed while He was on Earth.

It’s also a necessity. We simply cannot maintain the same level of closeness with all of our friends and acquaintances. On the inner circle, we need just that handful of people that know our souls better than anyone else to support us and know us in a meaningful way.

That doesn’t mean we can’t love other people in a general way and include them at other times. We can and we should. Even when Jesus was traveling with His disciples, if He came across someone in need, He put that person’s need as priority. He knew He would have alone time with His smaller group later – but in that moment, He loved and included those that needed Him.

But the question everyone wants to know is – what does that look like practically in my own life and social circle (especially at CYT)?

It all comes back to one’s attitude.

Picture the difference between someone with an attitude of inclusiveness and someone with an attitude of exclusiveness.

The person is talking with their group of friends and another student walks up to the group who perhaps doesn’t know the group that well, but wants to be in on the conversation. The one doing the talking welcomes them by name and smiles warmly at them – continues what he/she was saying, but includes them with eye contact and gestures as if they had been there all along. The group continues their conversation, but now includes the newcomer in asking questions/affirming their contributions, and making them feel like they belong there.

When the other student walks up, the group doesn’t acknowledge that person by name or by eye contact. They might glance at the student, but as they talk, their focus is really only on each other. They might drop inside jokes, laughing heartily at them without explaining them to the newcomer or only ask questions of each other. The other student almost feels invisible because that’s the attitude being given off by the group members who just care about each other and wish that that extra person would go away.

When someone has an attitude of inclusiveness at a group function or event, they are willing to accept anyone into their social group (oftentimes inviting in those who are standing alone or on the fringes). They make an effort to include them in conversation, and they show genuine care for everyone they are talking to. They don’t leave people out – either their best friend (because they’re trying not to be clique-ish!) or the newcomer.

So instead of thinking, “I can’t have fun with my group of friends at CYT because then I’ll be a clique” – no, you simply invite others to be a part of that fun. Most people just want to belong and not feel like an outsider. We help them do that by bringing them into what has already been established – our own groups of friends.

Sometimes this requires extra effort. Sometimes the other person isn’t very talkative and doesn’t respond well to gestures of inclusion. That’s okay – you keep on trying to include them anyway. You don’t turn to ignoring them because they aren’t talking very much. It does take some people longer to warm up to a new group of people than others, and they’re okay with being a listener for a while.

Sometimes you just need a private moment with your very best friend – and that’s okay, too, as long as it isn’t the 24/7 norm. We can balance both – including newbies and still enjoying our old friends – but you never know who might become a new best friend unless you include those newbies into your groups.

I have spent time with two people whom I knew were “best friends,” yet I never felt like an outsider because they did such an excellent job of including others. I didn’t resent their friendship because they were including me, and I could still have fun with them. They didn’t make it all about “their” friendship at that time because they knew they had other times for that. Those are the kind of people who know how to do relationships really well – the most intimate kind and the general kind – and they do it with a grace that makes everyone feel equally loved and accepted.

So the next time you are at CYT or with any group really, just be aware of people who need to be included. Ask yourself, “Who needs to be talked to? Who needs a hug? Who needs an invitation to join a group? Who needs a welcoming smile?” Because I guarantee that at one point and time, all of us are in need of that inclusiveness and affirmation that we are valuable to the group. Therefore, let’s open up our hearts to those around us, and we might be surprised at the friendships that form unexpectedly when we are obedient to the call to include others.

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