We have an obligation to become more understanding, more celebratory of differences, more purposeful in welcoming those who have been excluded or marginalized in the past. The list of who hasn’t been welcomed to society’s table is a long one:
- Those whose skin colour is different from our own;
- those whose religion is foreign to us;
- those who do not fit into the traditional binary description of sexual orientation or gender identity;
- those who learn differently;
- or those who have a mental illness.
And there are many others who could be added to that list. But, I believe that there is some really good news as well.
Most days I see signs where, as a society, we have found ways of making space at the table –both physically and emotionally — for those who have been excluded in the past.
What has also become more obvious to me with each passing year is that it’s actually our children and youth who seem to have the greatest ease at being inclusive towards others — especially with those who have been systemically excluded in the past. I see examples such as:
- accepting as normal those whose sexual orientation or gender identity is different than their own;
- including within their peer group those who may learn in different ways;
- having friendship groups as diverse as the populations in their schools;
- and becoming personally literate on the topic of mental wellness.
But, I have also been reminded that we still have more to do in terms of our perceptions and acceptance of others. As examples, I still hear prejudiced viewpoints about minorities, inappropriate jokes about those who are different, or anger towards those who are not heterosexual. And, yes, the vast majority of the time I hear this from adults not from children or youth.
Students are increasingly ready to accept others for who they are, what they believe and who they love.
Education is the key. The more we build understanding, the more we become inclusive of those who are different from us. So, my wish for 2019 is that we continue to find ways as a school system to instill in others the value of acceptance and inclusion — because it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the thing that will make our society a better place for everyone.