We’ve become an exclusive bunch. Instead of inviting what we want in, we put the majority of our effort into keeping what we don’t want out. Instead of taking the bad with the good (I don’t know why the actual saying has the two reversed), we throw out both so we don’t have to worry about either one.

If you’ve looked for a job lately, you’ve probably noticed that larger companies will have you fill out an online application that includes a veritable gauntlet of questions about your preferences and/or personality traits, how you would handle certain situations, and so on. Of course, when you’ve finished, you won’t get any kind of score or other indication of how you did; instead, you’ll just see “Thank you. Your application has been received.”

Smaller companies, the ones who are more likely to post job listings on Craigslist, tend to provide sets of very specific qualifications. Either the list of requirements will be long, dense, and/or detailed—or the description will include a disclaimer along the lines of “this is not a [your job field] position”, or “applicants who do not have [subset of your desired job] experience will not be considered.”

These approaches are clearly designed to exclude the “wrong” candidates, rather than to actually find the right ones. Training of any sort is almost never mentioned as an option for those who might be lacking in one part of the job description, but would otherwise be qualified for the job.

Try looking for an apartment. Things are a bit more clear-cut: you need to show you have sufficient income and/or assets, and a good credit record. This makes sense: landlords and property managers want to make sure that the folks they rent to will be able to reliably pay their rent, not damage the property, and not cause trouble.

But here, too, the emphasis is increasingly on exclusion.

To begin with, most rental applications are now processed online. That means folks who don’t use, or don’t have access to computers and/or the internet are automatically excluded. (Assuming they’ve even had access to the listing in the first place.)

If your circumstances are in flux, unusual, or both, you’ll have trouble. You can’t leave standard fields blank, and there’s no chance to explain unusual circumstances until you get to the end of the application—some two or three screens later.

If you don’t fit the standard mould, there’s no great willingness expressed to help you find alternate ways to satisfy the requirements. They’ll be happy to have you not rent just so they don’t have to worry about dealing with you in the event something goes wrong.

I mention these particular examples because I’m currently looking for both a steady job and an apartment to rent. But these are not the only areas in which our behaviors and procedures default to exclusion. We can find exclusion in our everyday lives, our businesses, our politics, and our diplomacy. I won’t go into those things here; this is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis.

The common thread is that we simply don’t want the hassle of accommodating anything that doesn’t perfectly fit our notions of how we want things (and people) to be. Accommodation requires effort, and, sometimes, change. Letting things remain the same is easier, even if the status quo isn’t what we really want.

I’ve been guilty of this in my own life. I’ve turned down jobs because I thought they would be too difficult, or too stressful. I’ve talked myself out of pursuing relationships because I thought that anyone with tastes so different than mine wouldn’t enjoy being with me. I’ve avoided coming to the aid of friends because it would have been inconvenient. I’ve stayed where I was because it would be too much work to change things. (While I haven’t necessarily shied away from big changes, it’s been a long time since I actively sought them out.)

On a more mundane level, figuring out what to have for dinner—especially when dining out is involved—has more often than not been a process of elimination. I’ll skip events I’d otherwise want to go to because they take place in parts of town that I don’t like. I’ll miss out on a good time rather than accommodate some minor detail that wouldn’t really detract from my experience.

If there’s an antidote to this condition, surely it must be inclusion. Inviting the good into our lives, but without insisting that the good be perfect. Making the effort to accommodate the flaws and differences that are often part of the entire package. Letting the things that we have in common guide us instead of the things that would divide us. Allowing people to grow into their roles in our lives, rather than insisting they fit a rigid set of specifications from the very get-go.

Am I up to this? Well, it will probably take time; old habits don’t die overnight. But it will give me something to aim for—and I certainly can’t expect from others what I’m not willing to try myself.

(December 4, 2012)


  1. Like you said–old habits take time to go away. One interesting to do is to take something of a critical or contrarian approach to your whole life. Don’t make every decision automatically based on what you normally do. Sometimes choose door #2.
    …just don’t do it tooooo often. Chances are your patterns are generally the right choice else you wouldn’t be here :>)

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