Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Inclusion

At a parish meeting many years ago, the rector announced the results of a safety inspection. The beautiful cedar trees surrounding the church needed to be fire-treated because of their proximity. Spend tens of thousands of dollars for the treatment... or endless thousands in city fines... or cut them down. We had to decide -- and act -- within the time limit on the citation.

The vestry (board of directors) recommended removing the trees. The rector asked for any discussion. After a long silence, the rector said, "Well, since there are no objections, we'll have the trees removed."

When we left church that day, a fellow parishioner approached me, horrified. "I can't believe they'd just go ahead and make a decision like that!"

"What are you talking about?" I said. "They asked for discussion!"

"I wasn't going to raise my hand. Nobody else did. I think people were intimidated. It sounded as though the decision had already been made."

"It was a recommendation," I said. It wasn't final until no one objected."

"Well, I think it's awful," the parishioner huffed.

"It's not like they were going to cut off your head if you asked for more details or objected," I said. "Nobody put a gag in your mouth. If you're too afraid to speak out in a room full of your friends, you've got no right to complain."

I was younger then and spoke more harshly than I would now. The encounter lingers, though, even 20 years later. I'm sure the rector and vestry wanted to include everyone in the decision -- otherwise, why ask for input? Could they have used another approach? Most certainly. Could it have been one that made everyone feel included?

Is it possible to "make" someone feel included? Or is inclusion defined by each individual, in a specific context? As a nominalization, I suspect inclusion is one of those things that needs to be described in observation language (what a videocamera would pick up) before any group can come up with useful strategies to achieve it.

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