On Moving From Tolerance to Inclusion: Four Suggestions to Make the Journey


A twenty year younger version of me would have sparingly been tolerant of differences, and on most occasions, not even that. Fortunately, I've always enjoyed ageing, even looked forward to it. I don't particularly pine for wrinkle free days and when binging didn't end up in regret the next morning. I would never trade my journey from tolerance to inclusion for any youthful indulgence. The place in life I now find myself in has helped forge relationships and friendships that were merely a dream back then, completely inaccessible and not even within my comprehension, perhaps.

Yet, it's been a long road from denial of differences that turned my life's beliefs upside down to intense soul searching about my place in the world, some of which continues, and I am glad it does.

Recent related article: Why Diversity is not an initiative, and better ways to describe it

Over the past decade and half, as I travelled in and out of my home country to several others, I met with cultures that shocked me, surprised me and even brought tears of joy. I experienced connectedness with those who lived thousands of miles away in ways I had missed with those who grew up right next door. The jolts were necessary and important parts of where I find myself today. The varied cultural and life experiences have brought as much value and pleasure as they have brought heartache and some regrets even. So I won’t romanticise this. The transition has been hard and definitely not all poetic.

Yet, no lesson came through without its invaluable addition to being more human, less judgmental and more accepting. We are different and so is the person standing in front of us. We wouldn’t have made that decision, but they did. They wouldn’t have made the one we did either. And that’s all right. You may agree, this is easier said than done. Acceptance that moves us to inclusion is mostly hard and takes time

What stops us from moving to inclusion then? Maybe the fact that resistance and tolerance is a way to protect ourselves from influences. It's our defense mechanism to endure something we don't much like, but hope won't change us in ways that we might like even less.

Inclusion is the opposite; it's letting down our defenses and opening up to experiences and beliefs that may very likely alter us, but we still welcome them in the hope that we’ll be richer for it.

Tolerance is not inclusion then. It's a milestone in the journey to being more accepting and inclusive of those who didn’t grow up like us, who don’t look like us, and more importantly, those who don’t think and behave like us.

No wonder then that organisations and teams often find inclusion a bigger challenge to get through than building an equitable and diverse workforce. Diversity can be hired, mentored and promoted. Inclusion continues to be a very personal decision that eludes policy and numbers. Inclusion is a choice, and a very intimate one at that.

So here are 4 suggestions that can enable us to move from tolerance to inclusion:

Question Beliefs

I grew up in a smallish town that grew bigger, but forgot to expand its mind on the way. So we continued to believe on a large scale what we did on a much smaller one. That wasn’t real progress in hindsight. Over the years, I began to question my beliefs that I held so close, but were no longer the convincing reality they once were. At times, the answers took long, some meandered through life's many experiences, but I finally found the important ones. It all began with the willingness to ask - am I thinking this the right way? Is this all there is to it? What if what I believe isn't even true? What if I am being unfair or plain bigoted? Asking is the first step, and asking takes courage.

Catch Tolerance

Often tolerance comes disguised as being really nice, smiling a lot and saying things to be politically correct rather than approach another with a sense of genuine enquiry and curiosity. If we catch ourselves exerting a lot of energy to be good or polite, but feel exhausted after the effort, we might be tolerating, not really including the person. Inclusion feels good, genuinely good. Inclusion is energising, it's interactive because it’s about both of us. It’s also about being real, being who we are, and who we are deep down is not just about being nice.

Practice Discomfort

What we don’t include, we exclude by default. We may not be guilty of pushing away different experiences and people outright. Yet, in staying within our comfort zone and with familiar people, we exclude those different from us. We are tempted to repeat comfortable patterns that reinforce our worldview within the limits of our cultural norms and upbringing. What if we met differences often and stretched some of our limits to take a peek beyond? It takes a surprisingly short amount of time to begin finding ‘strange’ and 'amusing' more normal than we thought. We are adaptable beings, built for discomfort and differences.


No training program, policy or organisational incentive to be inclusive can match the richness of travel experiences. Until I travelled, I didn’t begin to question my tolerance or the lack of it. When those I never thought had anything in common with me, embraced and helped me, I felt shaken deep down. For that to happen, we don't need to cross continents if we can't. Even traveling within our own country or city compels us to meet differences that get easily missed out in the rut of life. Travelling stretches us and helps us realise how much bigger humankind is than the 300 people we know in our network. It gives us pockets of solitude and silence, so that deep and uncomfortable questions have a chance to surface. Moving is not just physical, thoughts shift, too, and so does the spirit. So let’s travel, and get out more often.

I would love to hear what strategies you might use and recommend for each of us to be more inclusive of differences. Do post a comment when you can.

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Is Confidence all Women Need, and What Lies Beyond

Indian woman confident.jpg

Our life experiences so far would make for a pretty skyline, what with the mighty highs and sudden lows, gentle climbs, and at times, unexpected descents – all with a purpose, nothing wasted, all leading to something that goes beyond self-confidence. 

On that note, enough said about confidence. Numerous programs, podcasts and blogs tell me how to be more confident. Yet, when it comes down to the wire, I find we draw on something that goes beyond self-confidence and having practiced our craft to an art almost. In that moment we leverage self-belief and our awareness of who we truly are. We fall back on the most firm footing we can find that comes from within and not from what we've done or how skilled we are. In that moment we know that we know and that we can get through whatever stands in our path.

Just like you, I also enjoy being confident and learning new ways to be so. But before that, it helps to know what we are about and who we are becoming in this process called life.

Knowing ourselves is one of the most powerful ways to be confident. Do comment share what makes you feel confident and also helps you build self-belief.

Here's how I got started on this thought process. When I stepped into a new and challenging role or made career shifts or changed our home base, confidence alone failed to pull me through. A bit frustrating because we know we are confident, and yet there is this sense of uncertainty, fear and nervous energy that is hard to ignore and interferes with good judgement. That uncertainty and the unreliability of my confidence began my journey to question confidence and if that was the best I could aspire for.

Related article: In Defense of Self-doubts and why Women Mustn't Abandon them Yet

In the last few years, with the tugging of age and fueled by my uncertainty, I began to explore the seductive depths of my true self. I had little choice because when confidence alone didn't cut it, I had to ask myself some tough questions, for example - Did I really want to do this? What if I said no? What would I be doing if not this? Why did I say yes, when my heart was telling me to say no? Am I being honest with myself? Am I being honest with those around me? Who am I really and do I know that person for sure? Not that I found the answers right away, but I am glad I started this process of self-discovery.

For many years, my true self meant being confident. In some ways, I was right and still am, though that’s just one dimension of who we are deep down. Confidence helps our true self express itself – it’s the visible part. But, when I stretched my potential and ventured into unfamiliar territory, exploring myself and being honest about who I was proved much more useful and enduring than just being confident.

Here's the key, only we know what we are capable of, because only we can look within and see it, only we have the power to pluck our true self out of its hiding place. 

In doing so, I discovered that beyond confidence lay deep self-belief and awareness – the awareness of knowing myself and the belief that I could harness my inner self when I needed to. Of having the courage to travel the length and breadth of my being - and coming face to face with what I found there, irrespective of what confidence made me believe. This brought a sense of security and grounding that confidence reflected, but couldn't always generate or sustain for me. To reach this rock solid place, I had to deepen my faith in myself, in who I was and the person I wanted to become. 

I discovered magic when I went beyond confidence. A kind of magic that sprinkles our talents, strengths, our work and our lives with the divine. There is nothing quite like that which springs forth from the depths of knowing ourselves. It can weave magic in the minds of our audience. The magic is unique, like our thumb print, no other quite the same. In every era, and every economic phase - originality is a big ticket to big success. So knowing ourselves is half the battle won.

This is what can help to uncover ourselves. Be outrageously original. Find in ourselves the courage to speak up in the face of what’s popular, and walk in the opposite direction, if that’s what we feel certain we should do. Not to be a non-conformist for the heck of it, but to conform to our own true self. That kind of advantage is foolish to ignore. Following our sense of confidence alone, on the other hand, is a greater folly perhaps. 

To help our original, true self to emerge, it's probably best not to focus too hard on what works for others. What works for them is their own truth, it's their magic. Maybe, our true self is yet to be uncovered from the depths of our being. When we do discover our deepest self and our real worth, the magic begins.

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