They laughed at me and I put my head down on my desk and cried. The teacher had stepped out for a minute and Katrina immediately turned around and started making fun of my clothes. Half of the class joined in and I wanted to die.
I wore cheap polyester pants, clownish yellow shoes and a stained shirt that my mom bought in a bargain bin. Katrina and her friends dressed perfectly. I hated myself and the rest of the year I was excluded and rejected at that school.
Katrina was a beautiful African American and her best friend was a gorgeous Hispanic girl with perfect glossy black curly hair. I was the only Asian/Pacific Islander in the predominantly African American and Hispanic school. Being the only anything makes you stand out when you want to fade into the wallpaper.
I had no friends and that was when I wanted to commit suicide. It was a very lonely and dark time for a 10-year-old girl who had no one. My mom and her boyfriend were experimenting with drugs and missing in action on the parental front.
At that time, I believe God stepped into my life even though no one had reached out to me. I started praying and He was the only one I knew to ask for help. There were no Sunday School teachers, ministers or Christians reaching out to me. Only God.
We moved to a nicer part of town, and my mom and her boyfriend stopped experimenting and selling drugs. My mom got a better job and everything started turning around. I learned from that dark time that I didn’t want to be like Katrina who rejected me because I didn’t wear the right clothes.
That episode with Katrina made me sensitive to rejection and I became sort of an underdog for the school outcasts. That social skill of including people has served me well in my career. In every job that I held, my boss would have me deal with the difficult people. The difficult people were the ones that blew off my boss’s phone calls or emails and gave them a hard time. To this day I have no idea why I always got picked to handle the difficult people.
Maybe it’s because I’m a difficult person myself. When you’re rejected and constantly stand out you put up walls and keep everyone at a distance. You don’t trust people although you put up an easygoing front.
My kids tell me that I’m rude, intimidating and too outspoken. I’ve had people tell me that they hated me for no apparent reason. “It’s just because you are you,” one lady in church tried to explain as to why she didn’t like me.
I know how it feels to be excluded because I’m too skinny, too fat, too ugly, too pretty, too poor, too rich, too smart, too dumb and anything you can name. Or I don’t live in the right neighborhood, don’t drive the right car and the list goes on.
As Jerome has always told me, “Honey, people aren’t going to like you because of the color of your shoes. They’re just people.” He is much more gracious, merciful and compassionate than myself.
And I’ve been on the other end where I’ve excluded people because I didn’t have anything in common with them or didn’t bother to find it. Jerome told when we first married that I was a snob because I didn’t want to chit chat with his friends. I’ve changed dramatically after 20 years of being married to one of the most inclusive people that I know.
Pastor Brent Rudoski preached a sermon last Sunday about being more inclusive. I loved that message and I was inspired to write this blog post because I’ve been thinking a lot more about how to be purposefully inclusive of other people that are different than you. I’ve seen some companies succeed at purposefully diversifying their staff to reflect their customer base.
One company was Strang Communications. When I worked for them, I was the only minority female editor in my department. Being a minority with journalism skills was considered an asset because they were working hard to look like their customer base and be more inclusive of minorities.
I was the one who spotted ads that featured just Caucasians and encouraged more minorities in the pictures. I also watched for tone and language in the publications that I edited for children. The company was purposefully inclusive and today they have probably the most diverse staff of any major media company in the world.
Inclusion was a part of their business strategy and still is today. From the example I’ve seen at Strang Communications, I think inclusion needs to be purposeful, deliberate and not accidental. The benefits of inclusion is the rich depth of experience you bring to your enterprise and different view point on the status quo.
Since I’ve worked at Strang and have been married to Jerome, I learned 3 ways to be more inclusive:
- Make a deliberate effort to reach out and connect with people that are different from you as far as race, income or background. Herds are very common in companies and in churches. What I mean by herds are groups of people that are the same race, income and background. I think the best synergy comes from seeing something from a different viewpoint.
- Don’t be afraid of people that are different from you. You’re a stay at home mom and the lady sitting next to you is a business executive. Don’t be afraid to reach out to each other.
- Turn off your internal editor and listen to someone that’s different from you for 15 minutes. Don’t dominate the conversation. Just listen to them. You might be surprised what you learn from them.
Jesus is the ultimate model of inclusion. He included women. He included people who were outcasts of the temple because they were riddled by disease. He included children who we would usually shun because we think we’re such big shots.
He included us so much in His life that He died for us. That’s hard for me to fathom that He died for people like the Katrinas of the world who reject, ridicule and shun people because they don’t wear the right clothes are they aren’t pretty enough. He died for us all when we have no interest in Him.
He reaches out to us in our darkness when no one else will answer. He accepts us when everyone else thinks we’re unacceptable and not good enough. The ball is in our court as to whether we accept Him and all that He stands for. Will we love Him like He loves us?
For one moment include Him. Include someone else in your world that’s different from you. Then we can make a difference.