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Take One Day to Plan an Inclusive Year

Susan O'Halloran

3 min read

Jan 3

33

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Holidays and anniversaries only make up the tip of a culture’s essence, but even with these seemingly commonplace celebrations, we can find ourselves in the middle of unexpected cultural clashes.


In the United States, we pride ourselves on accepting all religions. Freedom of religious expression is a cornerstone of our beliefs. However, in practice, freedom is one thing and actual support is another.


I remember 30 years ago when I was on the Board of Directors for the Wild Onion Storytelling Festival in Chicago. We held performances Friday and Saturday afternoon and evenings. We offered story workshops on Saturday morning. A few folks who were Jewish finally approached us one day and asked, “Why are workshops only available on our Sabbath? We’d like to attend, too.”


We had never thought of ourselves as a Christian Storytelling Festival. Because those of us who were Christian were part of the majority, we enjoyed one of the privileges of being part of the dominant culture i.e. we didn’t have to think. Things were already set up for us. We’d been given “special preference” all along, actually, for so long we didn’t even think of it as a special preference. The way our country’s weeks were usually scheduled – with Sunday mornings off – seemed “just the way it was”.


After that awakening, we started holding story workshops on Saturday and Sunday mornings to packed audiences. In fact, many Christian folks were appreciative because their churches had moved to both Saturday and Sunday services and Sunday morning was a better time for them to take a workshop as well.


The truth is our country and, therefore, our workplaces started with one group’s cultural customs and anniversaries. Many of us went to schools with students from similar ethnic, income, religious and family backgrounds. 


Today, there is so much more variety in our organizations. If we proceed with a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude, we can easily find ourselves unintentionally alienating a part of our workforce and community.


Simply put, employees don’t contribute their best if they don’t feel they belong.

Here are a few guidelines for planning your company or organization’s calendar:

  • Set up a regular way to get input and feedback from community members. Constantly ask, “Who is not at the table?” It’s easy to assume you are getting a variety of viewpoints when what you are hearing agrees with your already held assumptions.

  • Prepare ahead of time by consulting more inclusive yearly calendars.

  • Listen to the landscape of each person’s treasured holidays and special events. Cultural meanings are very personal. The memories of family and friends resonate in people’s hearts and  identities.

  • Continually demonstrate small gestures of inclusion so that if and when you need to negotiate conflicting belief systems, people will already feel they’ve been considered all along.

  • Be ready to compromise and create new hybrid celebrations. Continually, sharpening your conflict resolution skills and learn how to structure meetings so that people are directed toward common ground.

How you approach the topic of what holidays and events to celebrate is really the story of two attitudes.


One says, “How can we possibly pay attention to all these different holidays? We can’t accommodate everyone! We’d have hundreds of days off. We’d never get any work done!”

The other says, “Reasonable people can work out policies to honor different holy days and holidays. Things have been set up for one group for so long that it will take some creative thinking to be more inclusive and we can do it!”


Inclusive organizations have been able to create and include celebrations that expand everyone’s learning and appreciation for each other’s feelings.


This article may be reproduced by giving the following credit: by Sue O’Halloran, author, story artist and race equity speaker/consultant. Find Sue and her store at:  www.SusanOHalloran.com


Susan O'Halloran

3 min read

Jan 3

33

0

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