What Running Taught Me About Inclusion

In my mid-thirties, I tipped the scales at 225 pounds. I decided to do something about my weight gain. I started jogging every day. Running at incremental distances of 3, 5, and 7 miles, over a 20 year period, I am proud to say I have dropped 45 pounds and as I approach my late fifties, I am only ten pounds more than my high school graduation weight.

It was not easy moving from a 38 inch waistline to a 36 inch girth. My weight loss and exercise regimen reminded me of how difficult it is to build federal government workplaces where differences are embraced, subordinate groups are made to feel at home and everyone regardless of their status in life can meet their full potential.

These are the parallels that I found most relevant:

Inclusion is Hard Work
The acceptance of people and things that are different from you demands heavy lifting. You may encounter a steep hill of a courageous conversation. You may fail in your initial efforts and step into a mud puddle of ambiguity. Inclusion is a contact sport. You will not get better at inclusion if you do not lace up your shoes and get into the race.

Work on Inclusion When You Don’t Feel Like It
There are plenty days when I do not feeling like running. There will be plenty of opportunities to flee the differences you have to confront. Confront them anyway. Grind through the ruggedness of the inclusion course. The brain loves certainty so the more you practice inclusion, the more habit forming it will become.

Inclusion Requires Risk Taking
Every day I run I think about the scenario of the dangers ahead of me. What time of day is it? What is traffic like? What turbulent weather is in the forecast? How many hours of light are left in the day?

Inclusion necessitates taking chances as well. Will someone file a complaint against me if I confront them about not recognizing and embracing my differences? How will it affect the relationships with my colleagues if I try to be more curious about their differences?

Inclusion Will Create Conflict
My favorite routine of running is not embraced by everyone in my world. As an American Indian and Alaska Native man with long hair, I am frequently heckled by passing motorists with war hoops or shout outs to get a haircut or run faster. In one exclusive white neighborhood I run in, I was told I by some parents that I frighten their children by my very appearance. Dog walkers, bicyclists, mothers pushing strollers all give me the evil eye as they flex their muscles of privilege that they own the sidewalk or the trail.

Inclusion will inevitably generate conflict. It is not a natural thing to do among human beings. You have to grow a tough skin if you want to be effective with this 21st century skill. Matter of fact, you should gravitate toward conflict as a result of inclusion so you will not be surprised by it. If you approach inclusion conversations as your full, authentic self in a compassionate way, you will realize the end goal of inclusion is not complete agreement but connected alignment.

Inclusion Requires Preparation
Jogging does not just happen at the snap of a finger. You have to acquire the right shoes, weather appropriate clothing, skin and eye protection as well has on person identification to meet the challenges of the terrain ahead.

Inclusion works the same way. Have you acquired the empathy and emotional intelligence required to control the emotional reactions differences create in your heart and mind? Are you curious about people and things that do not look like you, talk like you or act like you? Can you manage the uncertainty and ambiguity that the alarm and fear of differences bring into your life?

Running and inclusion have a lot in common. They require not only knowing what to do but the courage to do it. Get those heads, hearts and hands moving for your next inclusion marathon?

Happy trails to you as I hopefully meet you at the finish line of a government workplace where everyone has a shot at the best places to work.

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