If I start a conversation with you and use person-first language and you suggest to me that you would prefer a different way of considering how I say something or do something, then you cross the bridge with me and together we come to connection.

Consider how we talk to our best friend, a brother, or a sister. The things we say, the things we know about them; this is a connection that develops from years of missed steps and bridges where we both sat on both sides and waited for the other side to cross.

When we are talking to people who are strangers to us, start first by considering what is the bridge? Where are they coming from? Where am I coming from? How can we come together on the bridge without staying on our singular side? If you do not understand my intent, ask. If I say something that offends you, please consider first that that was not my intention, and then help me to understand.

But if you stand on one side of the bridge and say to me, “shame on you for not knowing, understanding or connecting,” then the chances that I will come halfway across the bridge to meet you are very small. The opportunity for the connection will be lost.

The conversation on inclusion is a bridge that connects us both ways. I have stood on both sides of that bridge as a person living with mental illness, and as a person who is an educator and employer. Working to connect more people to difference as a strength and not as a wall.

The ever-changing landscape of “correct” terms, actions and behaviours often decrease people’s desire to risk being “wrong”. The intention, words, and actions on one day can be inappropriate and disgraceful on the next.

When we fear that the bridge is not steady or well built we will stay on our side and keep ourselves safe.

This can make for difficult bridge building.

Can we come to a place on the bridge where we say, “I never imagined or intended for my actions, words or behaviours to hurt you.” “I am sorry that they did, can we move forward?”

That is a very different discussion then, “shame on you for choosing those words, those actions, those behaviours. You are a bad person.”

The likely response to shaming is to watch every word I say, every action I take, and every word that comes from my mouth to ensure that it will be well thought through and intentional. However, you will miss in that moment the opportunity to fall and get back up, to correct your mistakes and to learn a different way.

How did you learn that you should say please before you ask for something?

How many times did you not say please and somebody corrected you by saying, “what do you say when you ask for something?”

We can only be as good as learning allows and learning requires us to try.

What if we were all trying, what if we assumed first that in order to learn connection and respect for difference that we need first to have actions and words and behaviours that are changed in kindness and intention for learning, not shaming. Diversity and inclusion education and training need some new bridges. Bridges built from strong foundations, not just strong policies, and people ready for something new and steady, not just beautiful to look at.

Let’s try, let’s make mistakes, let’s attempt something new, be kind in our teaching and learning. Let’s build bridges and not barricades to inclusive language.