What I learned from practicing “Radical Inclusion” for 30 days.

maria bridge
Feb 4, 2017 · 6 min read

Throughout 2017, I’ll be exploring how we can reshape our reality through small value-based actions. I’m using the 10 Burning Man Principles as a foundation. Read more in my post “Radical Living: A Year-Long Experiment.”

January = Radical Inclusion

For month 1 of my Radical Living experiment, I chose to live out the principle of “Radical Inclusion.” Why this principle in particular? Well, it’s the first listed principle, and I figured there may be some logic to the ordering. But more importantly, January felt like an apt time for generating extra inclusion and empathy given everything going on in America these days.

Here’s what I learned from the process.

Lesson 1: Radical Inclusion Means Different Things to Different People

“We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” — burningman.org

At Burning Man, I had interpreted this as:

  • Be warm and welcoming to all

That’s great at Burning Man, but in my experience it comes pretty easily there because almost everyone is acting that way. Warm welcomes breed more warm welcomes. But what about when people aren’t nice? Or when they’re busy? What does “Radical Inclusion” look like in day-to-day life in Brooklyn?

To get some ideas flowing, and to be more inclusive, I asked 8 friends for their interpretations of the principle. People were awesomely responsive and helpful.

Email sent to 8 Burner friends. Advice was also sourced from non-Burner friends and family.

For some, “Radical Inclusion” was more of an inward process of being open and non-judgmental in your thoughts. For others, it was more external, and focused on welcoming people into your life, passions, thoughts, and feelings. And for some, it was about putting yourself out there, stepping out of your comfort zone to include yourself in new activities.

Crowd-sourced thoughts on what it means to be radically inclusive

This framing expanded my own definition of inclusion. It also guided me as I chose inclusive actions for the month.

Lesson 2: Involving others is key

As a reminder, the structure of the overall experiment is to choose 1 small daily action and 1–2 bigger actions per month.

While I had some thoughts, engaging my friends made the process come to life. Not only did they have great ideas I wouldn’t have considered, but it motivated me to commit. (At the time I was still on the fence about whether I really wanted to do this.)

Below is a recap of their 32 ideas. To facilitate more sharing, I made a public google doc where you can contribute your own ideas.

This is a subset of their ideas. I also created a google doc where you can add your own: http://bit.ly/Radical-Ideas1

For my small daily action, I chose to say “hello” or “good morning” to at least 2 people on the street every day. I also decided to smile at everyone on my block.

For my bigger actions, I chose the following:

  • Volunteer at an organization that works with populations I normally wouldn’t interact with

Lesson 3: You learn a lot more than you can fit into a reasonably-lengthed Medium article

I got so much out of the month, much of it surprising. I’ve captured 5 highlights, but seriously feels like I’m skimming the surface.

#1 You can’t be inclusive if you’re not paying attention.

Because I was on a daily mission to (awkwardly) say hello to people on the street, I paid more attention as I walked to the subway each day. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t be very welcoming with my face buried in my phone. By the end of the month, I found I had naturally reduced time spent multi-tasking or zoning out with headphones in.

#2: Smile! You look a lot better, and it lifts your mood.

In greeting a bunch of strangers this month, I noticed how often we walk around somewhat depressed looking. (Could just be NYC.) About half the time when I smiled at someone, they smiled back. Often, their entire body posture changed. I observed a similar effect on myself: by the end of the month I noticed I was standing straighter and even feeling a little more confident.

#3: Focusing on inclusion makes you aware of your judgments.

I normally make a concerted effort to be open, welcoming, and accepting. Or at least I thought I did. But, with the extra focus on inclusivity, I realized I was often quick to judge.

For example, I got caught in more than a few “us” vs. “them” discussions related to politics. (Hello, January.) Lumping people with similar political beliefs into one big category? That’s not empathy.

While I caught more of these judgmental thoughts than I would have hoped, I did notice them diminish over the course of the month.

#4: People are wonderful!

My favorite “bigger monthly action” ended up being two mornings spent volunteering at a local church to cook and serve food to low income people in my neighborhood.

I’m not religious, so this was out of my comfort zone. Before going, I wrote a story in my head that it wouldn’t be that fun and would be run by a bunch of older, “religious” types. (Yes, this is judgmental, but I hope by sharing honestly, it might help others catch their own judgments.)

That fabricated story was wrong. First, I found the cooking process super fun and rewarding. Surprisingly, it reminded me of happy times on cooking duty at Burning Man.

Second, I had far more in common with the volunteers than I expected. The group was lively, welcoming, and mainly in their 20s and 30s. The pastor was far from stodgy, and instead was kind, witty, warm, and proudly married to another woman. I even made a new friend — Frank — an energetic 77-year old man who lives on my block and started the soup kitchen out of his house 24 years ago. He saw a need in the neighborhood, and he took action. We walked home together last week and he told me a bunch of stories about Greenpoint back in the 40s.

This experience was one of many this month that reminded me that there are good people out there.

#5: Go first.

>90% of the hundreds of people I said “good morning” to said nothing back.

I started to wonder whether I was just annoying people.

Then, one day someone said “good morning” to me first, and it totally made my day. Extending kindness, even if people don’t respond, is a nice way to live.

That’s it for Radical Inclusion January!

  1. To stay updated on future monthly challenges, subscribe to my simple newsletter. I share~2x month short email updates on my progress, and you can write back with ideas. 😎

If you’re into spreading positivity through small actions, please share with others who believe in greater inclusion, self-expression, participation, and communal effort.

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maria bridge

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Writing on meditation, behavioral psychology, and applied ethics. Stanford MBA, Bain alum, certified Koru Mindfulness teacher.

The Beta Mode

Beta is a phase where we are incomplete, with errors and mistakes being made. It is also a phase where there is rapid learning and experimentation. Being in beta mode is focusing on progress, and not perfection. Here, we embrace beta.