Do you have a high horse? I must confess I do. I should call him Riin, short for righteous indignation! But I’m not sure it’s always righteous if I’m honest.
One high horse in a collection of hobby horses is a repulsion of the practice of othering because it makes people feel like they don’t belong. Imagine or remember hearing when you were a child, a sentence beginning, “you’re not….” or “you’re too…” and it probably led to you being left out, excluded, othered. For me it was, “you’re not old enough” and “you’re too slow” that left me out most often in the neighbourhood games growing up.
Perhaps you can even remember a recent example. “You’re too old” or “you’re too vulnerable” might hit home with you. No matter when or no matter what, you likely felt excluded, you may have felt hurt and offended. It might even have made you angry. Or weep. Hardest of all, these words are often not spoken, just felt ‘between the lines’. Sometimes it’s just a look.
Some of us will have heard a story that deals with an ‘othered’ person in a marginalised community. One of my favourite stories is that of Jesus’ encounter with a disgraced woman by a well? You can listen to it *here, read in the mellifluous tones of David Suchet (without Poirot’s Belgian accent!). It’s the most powerful story of belonging I know.
It contrasts sharply with how we manage to belong in business today, through policies that talk about tolerance, equality, inclusion and diversity. Jesus didn’t go to the town square of the marginalised Samaritan people of Sychar and talk to them about tolerance. He didn’t meet with the leader and ask them to create policy scrolls on equality, inclusion, and diversity. No, he showed up at a watering hole at the most unpopular time of the day (noon, when ‘normal’ people didn’t draw water) and he reached out and connected with a shamed, banished woman who was not tolerated in her town, who was unequal, excluded and from the least desirable race. He broke society’s rules by engaging with her, and when he did, he spoke truth with love. More than this, he made himself vulnerable and revealed who he really was. This was the first record of Jesus declaring himself the Messiah, and he did so to a ‘disgraced’ woman who’s name we will never know.
The result (spoiler alert if you haven’t read or listened yet) was that she not only lifted up her own head again but brought her entire community, the people who had shamed her, to a place where they could feel a sense of belonging. His treatment of her set many people free and, I’m confident, changed the course of her life forever. Because “the greatest thing we can ever know is to love and be loved in return”*.
I struggled to settle in the UK in 2004. A wise woman told me that what people most want is community, a sense of belonging. This hasn’t changed. A pandemic has not and will not change it. We need each other more than ever as we deal with change and loss.
Up until a year ago, we met up with people, drank tea and coffee together, or perhaps beer and wine later in the day, laughing and chatting before and after meetings. Today marks the anniversary of the first lockdown in the UK. It saw an end to chatting while the kettle boils or the drinks are served. It was a place and an opportunity to include or exclude people.
Who do you know that needs to belong as we look forward to a new tomorrow? How can you come alongside them, even virtually on Zoom, and as we anticipate face-to-face meetings? There was a lot more between Jesus and that Samaritan woman than a mask and social distancing. How creative can you be? Let’s start those conversations.
And if you’re reading this and seek a sense of belonging, I promise you a warm welcome wherever I hang out. I promise. Get in touch or phone me on +44 77808 56043.
* “Nature Boy”, eden ahbez, 1947, first made famous by singer, Nat King Cole.