Let’s get this out of the way.
I have the physical capability to dance. But I can not dance. My rhythm is off and my body doesn’t cooperate, so I have the coordination of the Tin man from the Wizard of Oz. I am in no way asking to be invited to a real dance party, largely because… well… I cannot dance.
And I play music. I sing a lot (now that I realize it’s in my blood). But I don’t literally want you to play anything I’ve recorded in my presence. I hate how I sound; two days ago I found recordings of songs I wrote and recorded in my teens… and while I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, they sound objectively bad. And I still have nightmares about recording sessions that produce phantom neck pain from staying in one position for long periods trying to get perfect vocals.
So why am I contradicting myself now?
I’ve heard a saying over the past couple of years: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” I’ve always liked that phrase, but felt it went further. In fact, research for this post brought me to a continuation: “Belonging is playing my music.” I could not agree more.
Most of us crave relationships. We want to feel like we’ve met people who “get” us on a bunch of different levels, particularly the deep ones. But even casual, low-key environments can be powerful in the relationships, because of the “music playing” in the background. Finding that acceptance can prove difficult; yet when you do it’s both so powerful and so quiet that you don’t want to draw attention to it. As my friend Meagan wrote in her brilliant post on this subject:
But when I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon an inclusive environment—my current workplace is an ideal example—it’s never been joyless or contrived. A lucky convergence of factors makes me perfectly comfortable, long before I realize it’s happening. By the time I become aware that I have found that rare sense of belonging, it’s too late to pinpoint precisely why it happened that way. All I can do is sit back and enjoy it, hoping I find it again elsewhere, and knowing there’s little I can do to reawaken the magic.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve stumbled into belonging. My workplace believes in my skills and experience, and trusts me to advocate for myself if I need it. My running crew treats me like a runner who’s blind (not a blind runner) with a seriously badass guide dog; I don’t get cheers for just showing up in the first place, but I’m encouraged as a runner, full stop… and yet I’ve been told more than once that Ed’s and my showing up for runs and coffee most weeks brings more runners out for post-run coffee. Are we, by our presence, creating an inclusive place, a place to belong, building our own magical “safe space”?
Maybe we are.
People who are part of someone’s “tribe” – the individuals and groups in which they feel most safe and accepted – don’t seem to think twice that they are creating and building something beautiful and mystical. Anytime I’ve brought it up to my tribe – or “my people”, as I call them – they shrug and think it’s nothing. And I don’t have the words to adequately describe the magic, the music, the dancing… because it just… is. There’s a regular board game meetup I’ve attended for the past six months, and I’ve literally had to explain nothing about blindness, never had to push the point that Pictionary isn’t an inclusive game, never had to enforce rules about interacting with Jenny, or find ways to include myself. Even when I hit a glitch with AiRa one night when it was my turn to read Taboo clues, my people refused to take the cards I tried to pass to them. One even thought of texting me the clues and the Taboo words, and I was able to continue being clue-giver – and no one complained about the length of time it was taking, because we were all just sitting around and joking and laughing anyway. They were playing my music, and I didn’t dare pinch myself in case it was all a dream.
Falling into belonging is unexpected, and beautiful, and life-giving. Rick, my running instructor, calls it the “absence of negatives”. I like the phrase, but I don’t think it entirely fits here; The absence of negatives is filled with something I can’t quite describe, and trying to do so seems to cheapen it. Having been met with such understated and seamless acceptance has freed me up to offer the same in return. It’s as simple as inviting someone to a party, as joyous as an enthusiastic dancer with two left feet, and as beautiful as your favourite soundtrack on the speakers. And more magic in the world brings more parties, more dancing, and more and varied music… and I think we all could use a little more of that.