Inclusive vs. exclusive

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Screenshot 2014-12-14 at 9.58.23 PMI had brunch today with a bunch of the OGs of my former employer– OGs standing for “old girls” or “original girls.” I am admittedly not really one of the OGs (I was probably one of the newer additions to the company of this cycle of employees– some who had left right before I joined) but I was happy to be included and it was a good time.

It got me to thinking a lot about general concepts involving inclusion and exclusion as it relates to relationships in adulthood. As children, we’re told not to leave people out and that everyone should be invited to play. The most important line in the movie Lilo & Stitch is, “Ohana means family. And family means that nobody is left behind or forgotten.” I always think this is a really important thing to remember in life.

I was also thinking about this in the context of the crew of “partiers” at my last company, including the abuser who cyberbullied me a couple of months ago. Included in this group is the woman that I lambasted in a post out of a personal desire for some closure. I kind of feel bad about putting the thoughts in print, though I don’t feel bad for hating this woman (I still think she’s one of the most odious people I have ever met in my life). But admittedly, it’s maybe something I shouldn’t have written.

One of the things that I grew to really resent about being in the presence of the abuser and the rest of the group was the sense of exclusiveness that they felt was necessary in how they socialized in life. At times, one member would organize events like potlucks or BBQs, which was admittedly very nice. However, email communications would always advise recipients not to tell other people about the event. I always thought this was strange– that our enjoyment of the event was arbitrarily limited for a situation that should have been really fun and inviting. One could argue that this was an issue of portion allotment– that too many people attending would have made this an unruly affair akin to a high school party bloated out of control. But truthfully, often people couldn’t attend and at the end of the day, it would have been people who knew each other (it was a small company). I always found the exclusiveness really unnecessary and as time passed, really nobody wanted to participate in these social outings because of the level of control exercised over everyone’s enjoyment.

Aside from the invitations, the attitude implied in these situations was, at least for me, more disturbing. One time, the abuser made a comment about one of the engineers at the company, saying, “I feel bad for {the engineer}– you can tell he wants to spend more time with us but he can’t.” At the time, it felt like a really ridiculous thing for an adult to say– like a line taken from the mean-girls movie “Heathers” transported to current day. But it was more silly to me because as a graduate of UC Berkeley who has worked in tech most of her life, most of my friends were more like the engineer than the group of alcohol-chugging partiers that people from this group associated themselves with. My immediate response was, “I don’t feel bad. If he wanted to spend time with me, I’d say yes. I don’t care.” There isn’t a bouncer and guest list when it comes to being in my life (I’m not that popular).

This also, if I really had to dissect it, was my main issue with the employee who kept pushing her diet on coworkers. Yeah, she was annoying, constantly lecturing on a diet that a) she wasn’t herself keeping to and b) wasn’t exactly working if she was. But what I found more distasteful about this person was that I think she thought she was better than other people. She seemed to come from some level of money but different hints that she would drop made me think she wasn’t really as rich as she thought she was. I don’t ultimately know. But her profile reveals that she was born in a very working class town in the SF Bay Area. And while she drove a luxury vehicle and owned a small apartment, she often complained about the price of gas and paid a mortgage.* These things don’t really make you rich. They are pretty average circumstances and yet I think she thought these rather average signals made her more special than everyone else.

This bothered me a lot. It bothered me for what it was (obnoxious behavior). But for me, it also bothered me as an abuse of privilege. I grew up, I would say, middle to upper middle class in a pretty middle class part of the Bay Area. There was a division, to a degree, in haves and have nots. Those of us who could afford it went to private high school and then on to pretty good colleges. Most of us went to grad school as well and are pretty professionally successful.

Some, however, weren’t so lucky. Because of upbringing, perhaps, some didn’t go the same route in life. I once was at the Blockbuster video (remember those?) in my old neighborhood and a guy kept the door open for me. I noticed that he was staring intensely at my face and then he said my name. It turns out it was a guy I’d gone to elementary school with. He asked me what I was up to and I said that I had graduated from college and was working. He admitted that he had started junior college but then had drug problems and it sounded like he was struggling to get back on his feet. It was a startling moment– how two people who started out in the same place but ended up in such different places later in life.

I feel like moments like this are a reminder of how lucky I am. Lucky to have had the guidance and financial support of my parents. Lucky to not have been derailed by any of the number of things that can take a person down in life– be it poor choices, unexpected health issues and the like. I think when you are the recipient of such riches in life, what you should do is try to use these things and be the best version of yourself you can be. I think it means not judging others for what they are not. It means not separating yourself from others because of perceived differences. It means helping others when you can. I don’t know that I reach these lofty goals everyday. In fact, I know that I don’t. But I think that I have parlayed what I have gained from a blessed upbringing and I like to think I have done some good in the world.

What you shouldn’t do when you have been given privilege in your life is use that as a reason to think you are better than others. To judge others on what they have not had the luck to have in their lives. To be mean and use this power to further the gap between yourself and those different than you. There is enough that makes us different, a point painfully highlighted in the recent deaths of African American youths at the hands of the police. There is race, socio-economic status, education and many other things that make it easy for us to look at one another and think, “You’re not like me. I don’t like you.” I think if we can start to focus not on our differences but to try to find some level of similarity and extend generosity on these perhaps shaky but very real, shared qualities, things could be better. Life could be better. We could be better.

When I really thought about it today, the benefit of surrounding yourself with people unlike you, is the doubt that it plants in your heart. When you’re always with people who are like you, yes, you probably won’t learn and grow as much. That is the benefit of having diversity, be it at college and universities or at the companies in which we work. But I also think that being around like-minded people makes you lazy. It makes you think that what you know is what there is to know. How you are is how you should be. When I’m around people who aren’t like me, I actually get really insecure. I think about ways I could be thinking and acting differently. Other lenses that I should consider for viewing the world. I’m a pretty critical person by nature. I know this and it has been pointed out to me. And when I’m around better-hearted, more generous people, it impacts me a lot. I think about ways I should be a better person and it implants the doubt within me to think about changing how I am in this world.

So I guess that’s where I’ll end this post. That excluding people is bad and the people who do it… maybe aren’t bad. I would say they are misguided. And I know how great I feel when I am included. And I should take the glow of happiness that I feel in my core when I am included and use this to try to make things better for those I am in contact with. I think this is a pretty good plan.

* I have friends who I would consider rich (having sold companies or being in higher up engineering roles) and the commonality I see in nearly all these people is a) ownership of older and simple, typically Japanese cars and b) the ability to buy or the actual act of purchasing a home in nearly-all or all-cash. I feel like “rich” in Silicon Valley looks very different than driving around in a BMW.

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