Last week I had an experience that reminded me how important it is to ask questions so we can see more.
I was at Paramount Restaurant for dinner. Paramount is owned by a man who is Muslim and I have seen a prayer room in one location. I would not be surprised if that is standard: another example of inclusion.
Last week, our server was wearing a hijab, and so I asked her if she was fasting and how she managed to work around food all day. (Think about that for a moment…!)
We had a brief conversation, and I learned a little more about Ramadan.
What stops us from asking?
But I almost didn’t ask.
And I had all the same reasons not to, that I hear from participants in workshops:
I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.
I didn’t want her to be offended.
What if I said the wrong thing?
What if she felt bad?
I also realized that there was a power imbalance.
True we are both women of colour, so that helped a bit – but I was the customer. Which meant, I was paying (and tipping) for the service she was providing.
So, while I asked permission to ask the question, and prefaced the question with “You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to” I have been on the other side and I know that that “out” is weighty when you are the one serving the food, not paying the bill.
What can happen when we ask…
But, I asked.
And here’s what I noticed:
Her face brightened.
Her energy changed.
She provided me with more information than I asked for.
It seemed that she was happy to talk about it (emphasis on the seemed – I don’t know for sure, but it felt that way).
It wasn’t a long conversation, but it reminded me that when we ask questions because we genuinely want to know, on some level is signals that the information matters to us, and that the person matters to us. Asking because we genuinely want to know tells the other person that we see them. And that we want to see them accurately. Which suggests, then, that not asking can send the opposite signal.
While it is true that we can be tired of answering questions, or annoyed by the questions asked of us, the context, the way the question is asked, and the intention behind it make a huge difference. Think for a moment and consider if you would feel offended or bad if someone asked you a question because they really, genuinely wanted to know more about you?
Cultures of Learning
Creating cultures of learning are key components of a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Because we need to talk, and we need to ask questions.
Because there is much we don’t, won’t and can’t know – but that we need to know in order to create spaces where people feel a sense of belonging.
And the only way to get there is to ask, and to talk.
Connection is one of the “Cs” in the ABCs of inclusion.
It’s one of the ways we create spaces where people feel seen, heard and valued.