You’re hiking in the early morning. It’s still dark out. You woke up early—about the hour when a decade ago you’d be going to bed. But instead, you’re rising. You’re a little on edge. The anticipation for this hike made it hard to go to sleep and the early morning hours give you jitters. You were itching to reach the summit before dawn.
A lone bird sings while you wait for your friends at the base of the trail. Here they come, straggling towards you. They start out as vague shapes. Their shapes are formless in their collection of light jackets and layers. As you make out the faces of your friends in the waning moonlight, you see someone you don’t recognize. They don’t look prepared for this hike. You hand them one of your water bottles and you all set out for the summit.
You dreamed about this sunrise before but you haven’t seen it yet. You’re about an hour up the trail when you realize the stranger is lagging behind most of the group. They’re talking with a mutual friend in excited tones. It’s possible they don’t know how beautiful this sunrise is going to be. You slow down to walk with them in the hopes that they’ll pick up the pace. It doesn’t work. Daylight is creeping in. Already the sky is a little brighter than when you first arrived. You’re still not sure how much longer it will take to get all the way up there.
The stranger stops to pee again. “I don’t know where they even got that much water,” you mutter to yourself. They grab a granola bar out of their friend’s pack and the party keeps moving up the trail. This person is holding us all back. You think about going on ahead.
If you stay at this pace, you’ll miss the sunrise. You’ll have hiked for hours. The view will still be gorgeous. But it won’t be the same. If you speed up, you might make it in time to watch the sun crest over the mountains nearby. This is the reason you went on this hike in the first place. Feeling the promise of a new day with senses connected to a brain complex enough to behold it. But if you go on ahead, you’ll make it there with fewer people than you started with.
the hike for true belonging
There are times when I feel this sort of tension as I walk with others towards a future of true equity. At times the destination feels so close, its promise so tangible. We only need to move towards it. And we need to move faster. Not everyone will move at my pace. Maybe they still don’t get it. They don’t have the time to learn at the pace that I do. They may be afraid of what’s ahead. They could feel uneasy about change in general or in specifics. They may prefer a system they understand rather than an unknown set of systems we will build together.
The metaphor of the sunrise is imperfect, sure. In workplace settings, we rarely have the luxury (or the option) of leaving people behind. They may depart our workplace, but they will go somewhere else. Most of us have to work somewhere. At the least, we have to interact with others who won’t share our views. Most often, in those situations I adopt an approach like the one I do when I go hiking:
Walk with the group most of the time. Speed up a little and scout out the trail ahead. Walk a little slower and talk with people at the back of the group. Savor the wonder that’s already around me. I never know who will spot an owl watching us from a stand of trees, or know the name of a flower that we pass. My hike may not look like the one I envision, but I’m responsible for creating its richness.
I strive to co-create a future where everyone feels like they belong. Sometimes it’s painstaking to steer myself towards that level of inclusion. I may miss today’s sunrise. But what we’re working for is a lifetime of sunrises, for us all.