Understanding Inclusion - Why Names Matter



A little less than a year ago I wrote Inclusion is a State of Mind. In it, I share a quote from the American Camping Association that asserts, “Inclusion is first and foremost a philosophy. It is a mindset and a belief that everyone has value and something to contribute.” This is so entirely in line with my own philosophy that I feel compelled to repeat it often.

And I am not alone.  In a piece he wrote for the SFGate in August of 2013, Russ Ewell states, “Successful inclusion begins and ends with our capacity for valuing others. We cannot include those we do not value.” Amen! Even better, Russ continues by saying that, fortunately, we can learn to value others. I agree. But how?

In a powerful piece by Rabbi Evan Moffic called Do You Remember My Name, he tells us that, “Names convey identity. When someone knows our name, they know us as a unique individual.” In reading this I am immediately reminded of the following cartoon:


Rabbi Moffic’s words emphasize this concept when he states, “God uses names to teach values and character,” and he shares a story of the origin the name of Pharaoh’s daughter: “Jewish commentary, however, gives her the name Batya. This is an especially beautiful choice, as Batya means “daughter of God.” Even though she is biologically the daughter of a wicked Pharaoh, her actions show that she is a true daughter of God, a person willing to do right and care for a helpless Hebrew child.”

What can this teach us? First and foremost, we are reminded that our actions consistently have the power to speak louder than our words. We must actively turn the old cliché “do as I say, not as I do” on its head. From the Talmud, “If you really want them to do this, then you yourself must spend time over the Torah, and they will do as you do. Otherwise they will not devote themselves to the Torah, but only tell their children to do it. And so it will go on.”

Imagine what our relationships could become if we intentionally and deliberately learned and used the name of each person with whom we interact. Every time. 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.” 

This may well be the essence of what Jamie Notter is trying to convey when he says that inclusion is, “not an attitude, or even a proclamation. It’s a verb: to include. It’s a transitive verb, no less: to include something or someone. I include you. Or I don’t, but inclusion happens when people actively include others. It’s behavior. Eye contact. Conversations. Questions…We must consciously choose to include.”

So, which is it? Is inclusion an attitude? Is inclusion a mindset or a philosophy or a verb? It’s probably a little bit of all these things, and more; but ironically, what we name it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how we LIVE it.