Tag Archives: inclusive

Inclusive thinking

One of the easiest and most problematic mistakes to make is simply to assume that everyone else we deal with is just like us. I’ve seen it in books and articles, in how people organise events and manage volunteers, and more. It tends to come from people who have enough privilege that they don’t have to pay attention to how privilege manifests in their lives. When you think you are normal, it’s a small step to thinking that anyone different is just being awkward or uncooperative and thus feeling no obligation to respond to their needs.

If you’re stepping into any kind of leadership /authority /author role as a Pagan, I think it’s incredibly important to consider how your notion of your own normality might impact on how you treat other people. It takes effort and empathy to look past your own experiences to learn about how the world works (or doesn’t) for other people. It takes effort and imagination to consider where your assumptions might make your efforts exclusive. It takes integrity and courage to look at how your beliefs might unwittingly have made you ableist, racist, sexist, classist. And it is so important to dig in and do the work.

If leadership is the comfortable acting for the benefit of the comfortable, while leaving the disadvantaged on the outside, it’s more about self indulgence than service. It is certainly the case that making everything totally inclusive for everybody tends to be both prohibitively difficult and expensive, because we operate within systems that are problematic. But that doesn’t mean you are free to not try.

This isn’t about the imaginary people who might want to get involved. Not being able to cater to the need of the imaginary people can just be a way of letting yourself off the hook. What matters most is to include the people who show up wanting to be included. The real ones who are in your immediate community.

Here are a few things you can do in this regard. 

  1. Be explicit that you are open to hearing from people about their access needs or barriers to attending.
  2. When people tell you about access issues and barriers, listen with respect and take them seriously.
  3. Try to find workarounds based on what you are being asked to do, trusting that the person asking you to improve inclusivity knows most about what would help them participate.
  4. Consider it your responsibility to enable participation.

If you aren’t acting as a leader in any capacity you can help by flagging up access issues when you see them, and by supporting people who ask for things to be made more inclusive. Amplify, affirm, take seriously and treat with respect people who need help around access.


Accessible rituals – timing

One of the things that really impacts on how accessible a ritual is, is when you hold it. If you’re viewing ritual from the perspective of an able-bodied car owner you might not be alert to the ways in which poverty and disability are impacted by timings.

It is of course tempting to be out in the dark – privacy and mystery are both enhanced by this. However, for a woman travelling alone, a late finish can be intimidating. I’ve talked to women who found getting to their car late at night intimidating. For a woman walking, cycling or on public transport, the fear of assault is often much worse.

If your ritual ends late, there may be no public transport options. Anyone who does not have a car will thus be barred from attending if they can’t walk. 

Low light increases the physical hazards in a situation. A person with poor eyesight or mobility issues may feel barred from attending.

Cold night air can be a problem for anyone with breathing-related health problems. Cold outdoor conditions can increase pain for people who already deal with pain. An outdoors ritual in the dark, in the dark half of the year can be physically too demanding for people who are bodily limited.

If you don’t flag up your willingness to discuss timing, people may well assume that it isn’t open to discussion. People who struggle are all too used to dealing with people who won’t take their issues seriously or accommodate them. It can seem better to just save your energy and accept not participating. Don’t assume people who are in difficulty will tell you that or tell you what their problems are unsolicited.

Rituals work better when we have a culture of active care and find ways to look after each other. We build community when we do this, and we avoid excluding people.


Accessible Ritual

One of the easiest ways to make your rituals more accessible, is to make it ok to sit down. In indoors venues, provide and offer chairs. For outdoor gatherings, add ‘seats’ to the list of things people might want to bring.

Fatigue is a common problem that people have alongside illness and many kinds of disability. It can also be an issue around mental health problems. So, not being able to stand for an hour or two is one of the most likely problems that could make a ritual inaccessible. And it is so easy to fix!

You will also have to think about what people are doing during the ritual to make sure no problems will arise for people who are sitting.

In very hot weather, the safety of your entire ritual is improved by it being fine for people to sit down if they need to.

When advertising an event, the odds are you won’t be able to talk at length about every possible access issue. By saying ‘chairs/sitting welcome’ you flag up that you are going to be open to other access conversations. This can really help people approach you. Anyone who has experienced discrimination has probably also had the experience of being treated like they don’t matter, like they make too much of a fuss or that it isn’t worth bothering with their issues. By drawing attention to chairs, you can make it clear that you aren’t that sort of person and you will get into a conversation with anyone who needs it.

It’s not always possible to provide everything for everyone – but we can try! Showing care and respect has a value all by itself and opens the way to finding ways to include more people.


The Revolution Must Be Inclusive

I’m not a member of Extinction Rebellion and it’s a movement I have mixed feelings about. There are a lot of people I like and admire who are getting involved. There are a fair few people co-opting it for self promotion purposes, or to further other personal projects. That it is getting attention for climate crisis is important. That its means do not align reliably with its intended ends is a problem for me.

I am absolutely in favour of gathering in Trafalgar Square to speak truth to power. Protesting in the right place, in the faces of those in power whose minds need changing, is a good idea. Not all of it goes this way, which I think is counter-productive. I’ve seen a lot of it locally and there have been too many actions that alienate people rather than engaging them.

To radically change our cultures, our behaviour, our laws and politics, we needs as many people persuaded as possible. That makes the question of who to inconvenience, and how, an important one. An inclusive movement draws people in and persuades them. There is going to be discomfort for people whose lifestyles are not sustainable, and there will be pushback, but if people feel too uncomfortable, they’re more likely to dig in and resist change, which does not help.

I worry about the way in which many Green activities look like middle class hobbies. It suits certain areas of the media to push that message, because persuading most people that it’s snobbery and hypocrisy and not for them is an effective way of maintaining the status quo. Activists need to think carefully about this because we need more people engaging, not being put off. It is important not to price people out of participation. Protesting in ways that hurt people who are already struggling isn’t an appealing look.

I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I was the youngest person in the room, as a middle aged person, conscious that an even younger person might have had a much harder time of feeling comfortable there. The assumption that you are retired and can afford the time is a big assumption, and a common one. I’ve been in so many spaces where the assumption of middle class affluence was a real problem for me, and I’ve heard people say some pretty awful things about ‘the poor’ in those contexts.

It isn’t easy for people who feel themselves to be normal, to see who is missing from the room. All-male spaces don’t notice the lack of women as an issue. All-middle-class spaces don’t notice the lack of working class people. All-white spaces don’t notice the lack of ethnic diversity. Able bodied groups do not notice the lack of disabled people. And so on. Invariably, it becomes the job of the first person in the room not to fit to try and make that space. Which is exhausting and difficult and thankless. We should not be making disadvantaged people fight to get into the room and fight for a space at the table. We should be smoothing the way whenever we can.

If you think ‘those people’ aren’t in your movement because ‘they’ don’t really care about that sort of thing, please rethink this. If you’re treating a demographic as all being the same, you are going to be making terrible mistakes. If you’re participating, and seeing someone else’s lack of participation as them not being the sort of person who would, you won’t change anything. When you ask what you can do to be more inclusive and to enable more people to get involved and see green movements as for them, in their interests, and spaces where they would be welcome, you can make changes.

A non-inclusive revolution won’t work. A revolution for the middle classes won’t tackle many of the ways in which poverty and environmental problems go hand in hand. A revolution that isn’t for everyone, isn’t going to work. It will take maximum engagement to really change things. It should fall to those who are most able to help people get involved. If something is easy for you that doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.


Doing it from memory

We know that the ancient Druids had an oral tradition, and that the bards of old memorised vast amounts of material. However, when it comes to the modern bard path, I think it’s really important not to be dogmatic about doing things from memory.

Firstly, not everyone can. Not all brains are good at storing great swathes of text and music. Brain injuries, cognitive differences, and learning difficulties can all make memorising impossible, or excessively difficult. No one should be excluded from bardic performance for these reasons. If you’re holding a bardic space, it is important not to discriminate and not to demand that people perform from memory. Don’t challenge people who can’t and don’t ask why they can’t – it isn’t your business.

There can also be class, life stage and economic issues around performance from memory as well. Learning takes time. That time may not be available – work, illness, family, and other pressures may mean a person does not have the luxury of time to learn content by heart. It is kinder and more inclusive not to put people under pressure or to exclude them based on how overwhelming their lives are. And again, we do not need to know the details of why a person cannot commit to learning the words.

For someone who is anxious, or inexperienced, doing it without the words can simply be too daunting the first few times. People who could be great may never get started if the entry bar is set to high. None of us benefit from that.

The quality of a performance does not depend on whether you are holding a piece of paper. Certainly a piece of paper can be a barrier between performer and audience, but it doesn’t have to be. No one complains about classical musicians reading from the sheet music. Authors are allowed to read from their books at events, too. It is entirely possible to perform very badly from memory. The best thing to do is focus on quality of performance – in your own work and when you are making space for other people.

If you need the words, or notes, to make that possible, go with whatever allows you to do the best performance you can. Don’t penalise other people for needing to rely on paper or phones for content. You can encourage excellence without making specific demands on what people do. It takes time to develop as a performer and most people start out far less able than they will be with practice. Experience of performing is part of what takes a person towards being a really great performer – most of us don’t get up for the first time at anything like the level of performance we might be capable of.

(And thank you to Clive Oseman for the prompt)


Including the awkward hands

I’ve never been able to hold a pen properly. Pretty much all of my joints bend the wrong way under pressure, and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve known there was a word for this – hypermobility – and that it is something to guard against. Bending a joint the wrong way hurts it and does it no good at all, but I’ve spent much of my life encouraged to think of body pain as something I shouldn’t make a fuss about.

Going through school, my handwriting was always an issue and there were repeated rounds to correct my pen hold – the pen hold that makes it possible and not too uncomfortable to hold a pen. The backward bending fingers were strangely invisible to the people who wanted to correct me. I had problems with music as well – I could never hold my hands in the correct way for piano playing, could not hold a violin or a violin bow in the approved way either. I expect I lost marks for that on every exam I took.

Our lives are full of assumptions about what is normal, what everyone should be able to do, and what is proper. The right ways to hold knives and folks and teacups. The right kinds of things to do with your body in a gym. For much of my childhood, I had no idea that what happens with my joints isn’t normal, and that the discomfort, through to pain I experienced was a real issue. I was just expected to act like everyone else. Hold the violin properly. I’ve always been clumsy and I only recently found out that goes with the hypermobility and is not some kind of personal failing.

I write this not as an exercise in self pity, but as a small example of how miserable it is when people fail to recognise and accommodate difference. All too often, we ask people to bend themselves into the normal shape, not how we can adapt what’s going on to allow them to participate on their own terms.

There is so much diversity in how people experience the world. How we think and feel, how we move and what we can do with our bodies. The ‘normal’ person probably doesn’t even exist. The degree to which we can pass ourselves off as being the normal person, does.

I don’t know if music exams have changed in the last twenty years – they might have done. Perhaps they are more accepting of innate differences in bodies and students who cannot play while making the standard shapes with their bodies. I was never a great musician, but I was ok. Music was, and remains, important to me. A person who wants to play shouldn’t, surely, be put off and marked down for having a body that does not allow them to hold an instrument in the classically acceptable way.

Folk music of course doesn’t have formal holds, or exams, and it does not reject any needs (or for that matter eccentricities) that a person brings to their playing. It is possible to have good quality music that includes. It is possible to have good quality anything that includes, if there is a will to accommodate rather than asking people to conform to sometimes impossible standards.