One of the most memorable conversations I ever had with my grandfather happened over our fishing trips. He had several sisters, and when he married, he and my grandmother only had sons. He had a soft spot for his granddaughters, and I benefited from that issue because I was a tomboy. Anything the boys could do, I could do just as well, if not better. Everything was fine in my relationship with my grandfather until my cousin Ben was born. Ben was the one who would carry on the Johnson name. I was happy that Ben was in the family but thought that my place was replaced by this cute baby that infiltrated my grandparent’s attention. My grandfather found me sulking outside. He asked me what was wrong, and in my usual cynicism, I retorted, “nothing.” He sat down beside me, lit his cigarette, and said that I could fool a lot of people, but I couldn’t fool him. I told him now that he had a grandson, he didn’t need me going on fishing trips with him. He reminded me that Ben had a few years to go before he’d be able to do that with him and that no one was going to replace me. He told me that I was unique and spunky. His favorite nickname for me was Monkey because I was always getting into something like a monkey would. No matter who came along in the family, Grandpa always wanted me to feel included. He recognized when I would retreat into a shell and did his best to keep me engaged in activities.
I use that example because it reminds me how often people come and go in our lives that we think we are being replaced by and how we don’t recognize our worth. We tend to believe that we’re getting too old or that someone else is replacing us because it’s cheaper. Kids often think when a new baby or family member enters the picture that their worth diminishes. This rationale is rarely valid. It’s essential to understand people enter our lives for many different reasons. They leave for many reasons too. It’s up to us to use the time we have with them wisely.
I don’t see Ben and his family much anymore. I don’t get to see my cousins for years at a time. We are all scattered around the United States now. Some are in Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, while others are unknown. It’s easy to lose touch with family. It’s never a dull moment when we all get together. For a family with so many people, we all find ways to keep from getting bored.
One of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever faced is organizing activities for people I didn’t know and finding ways to make everyone feel included. Ice breakers are an excellent tool for this because it engages folks in conversation. Some of you may not remember a Red Rover game, but I always dreaded that game because I didn’t want to be the last one called. I was usually close to the final and found that those times that I wasn’t the last one, I felt a little better. That game is no longer played in many circles because it represents a form of bullying. Other games are played now in schools that are more sophisticated and mean. Sometimes being included in those games can have detrimental long-term effects.
Why am I bringing this up now? One reason is that we all have times in our lives that we feel excluded. When I worked with Habitat for Humanity, we had a goal that everyone volunteering could feel like they were a priority. Many volunteers had never had a hammer before, but they could do other tasks. Some of them learned how to use one and are very skilled and proficient with a hammer. They would never have known what they were capable of had they been excluded from opportunities.
During that time, one of the workshops I attended talked about how to make others feel more included in projects. Some of the ideas were as follows.
- After Sharing Yourself, Focus On The Other Person With Questions. This step is a great way to learn about others in your group. We all have different skillsets and come from varying walks of life. It’s good to ask questions because it shows curiosity about others.
- Find Common Ground. Why are they there? What do they hope to achieve or accomplish? Do they have any experience? What types of projects would they be interested in learning? How much time do they have to devote to the task? These are some of the questions that you might ask. If you can find common ground, you have a better opportunity to grow with them.
- Encourage the Others In The Group To Take Responsibility. Leaders nurture others by their ability to lead. When others take ownership and responsibility, they are setting the stage for others to grow and evolve.
- Actively Listen To Them. What’s important to you may not be necessary to others. Listen to what they tell you through their words and body language. The tone in their voice can also imply how they may feel about something. Once you keep doors open, it won’t matter about doors that close. There will always be available opportunities if you allow those factors to work.
- Listen To Remember. This action goes along with recalling conversations because it validates to others that you heard them. Paraphrasing often helps strengthen this skill.
The main thing is to remember that feeling of isolation and exclusion. You never know what people are going through or dealing with because this world gets hectic. The more we are inclusive to others, the stronger our networks become.
I hope you can enjoy this weekend and take on projects with others you might have evaded before. Who knows? You might make new friends along the way. Have a great weekend, everyone.