Monday, July 14, 2014

Musings on Radical Inclusion

In October, I'm throwing myself way out of my comfort zone and going to Burning Seed - a week long festival that is the regional incarnation of the massive Burning Man festival in Nevada. This is not a festival that is created by organisers for the entertainment of participants, it is created by the participants themselves. There are ten principles which guide the festivals, but it's the principle of radical inclusion that's got me pondering. 
Radical InclusionAnyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Since I have yet to go to this festival, I have no idea what this looks like at Burning Seed, and my musings here are in no way intended to reflect on it. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they (we) try to realise this principle in a state forest near Wagga. This post is purely theoretical and speculative.

The idea of radical inclusion seems both wonderful and deeply problematic to me. On the one hand, this principle is probably 90% of the reason I decided to go. It's very clear that I don't have to already be part of the community to welcomed by it. That's awesome. But when I start to think about the implications of being truly radically inclusive, that pesky "other hand" gives me trouble. To be inclusive, and to welcome people, implies that the space is safe and accessible for those people. To be inclusive and welcoming to everyone implies a space is safe and accessible to everyone, and I'm not entirely sure that such a space can actually exist, even in theory.

For example, another principle is radical self-expression:
Radical Self-expressionRadical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
This description hints at the idea that one person's self-expression may impact on another. A person may well find a form of self-expression which is incredibly healing and cathartic for themselves, but is simultaneously horrendously triggering to another person who happens to see it.  And yet another person may have avoided seeing it, if they'd been forewarned, but actually finds it surprisingly empowering, and desensitising instead of triggering. How do you allow for inclusion of all three people?

Another example is the physical location. Burning Seed is held in a remote location, with minimal mobile coverage and a general discouragement from using phones and other connections to the outside world. This is designed to improve inclusiveness, to help people feel safe from having their image or anything else shared with the wider world. That makes a lot of sense, isolation brings a certain security that some people may not be willing to participate without. It also provides the mental space for people to truly participate, to properly engage with the people and space around them. But it was a definite stumbling block for me - not being able to connect with outside world for a whole week could potentially threaten my livelihood. I decided the risk was manageable, but for someone else, it might exclude them completely.

And this is not just about how people make a living. It's also about people's coping methods. For my middle son, who Does Not Cope Well With Change, attending something like this would be very challenging. To be a safe space for him, he would need to be able to access his coping methods, and for him, that's largely online. But a location that provided excellent digital connection would probably then become unsafe for others, for myriad reasons.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, just couple of illustrative examples that came readily to mind.

From a broader perspective, everyone should have access to safe, inclusive spaces, and making an effort to consider that is really important. But I'm not sure it's possible to achieve that in one space, simply because of conflicting and competing needs. Managing that, for a community that wants to be as inclusive as possible, is going to be really tricky, and yet a very valuable pursuit.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how people who've put real thought and energy into this idea have put it into practice. However, I have to accept it may be that the decisions they make on competing needs mean that I, or someone I know, or someone else again, is not actually included in their community, and that's just unavoidable.


  1. Given that the webpage doesn't even meet accessibility guidelines, and that there is exactly information on _how_ the event is made physically accessible (let alone in any other way)... I wouldn't hold my breath on it being a model of radical inclusion!

  2. Yeah, evidence of practical aspects of inclusion is minimal. Perhaps, if I decide this is a thing for me, this is a thing I can make part of my contribution to the community. Even if there is physical accommodations made of any sort, there's not much point if it can't be determined from the information provided in advance.