At the market several days ago, there was a mother in her mid-40s and her son who was about 15 years old standing in the produce section. Since it was crowded, I initially only saw them out of the corner of my eye, but then when I noticed them, it became clear why this mattered.
They were moving very slowly, hand-in-hand, as this young man looked at everyone who approached or passed by, asking, “What’s your name?” A simple question and one that many adults could have easily answered, or so I thought. The young man was clearly differently-abled, and with a big grin on his sweet face, he was waiting for responses.
One woman skirted around them and while she had a quasi-smile on her face, she didn’t respond. One man said his name as he quickly walked past, not engaging with the young man at all. A few others ignored him entirely as if they didn’t hear him. But they did.
I watched this child’s mother as she surveyed the area with a soft smile, half anticipating that her son’s question wouldn't be answered while hoping that maybe it would. I could feel what she was feeling.
As I approached, sure enough the young man looked at me and asked for my name. When I immediately responded and stood there, the smile on his face said it all. I asked him for his name which surprised him, and while he was a bit difficult to understand, he told me…and his mother softly repeated it from behind him.
I asked him how was his day, and he paused and said, “Okay.” I then said, “Well, my day was just okay too until I met you and now it’s terrific.” His smile touched me deeply and his mother’s “ah, that’s so nice” was such a gift.
You might be asking what this has to do with inclusion and diversity.
We talk about inclusion in business, schools, and communities, seeking ways to embrace all and provide opportunities for every person to be included.
We talk about diversity and how people with different ideas, perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences add to our richness as a community of people.
We make accommodations for those whose needs require them in an effort to level the playing field and open doors when and where, for many years, they've been closed.
We donate to causes, walk to raise money, and contribute to fundraisers, all important to demonstrate our desire to help others...and the needs are great.
We train on it. We attend seminars on it. We write policies on it. All as we strive to accept and yes, embrace, those who are different from ourselves.
But you know what? If we look away, ignore, or pretend not to hear or see, we're failing to make inclusion and diversity part of our lives in a real way.
If we're too busy to answer a young man's simple question because it upends our routine or requires 20 seconds of our time, we're failing to be the people we're striving to be. If we really want to open our arms and hearts to people who look, speak, act, believe, worship, love, or anything else different from ourselves, it begins by taking a moment to tell a sweet young man your name.