I saw a social media posting recently that said, “Sometimes the greatest gift you can give another person is simply to include them.” It’s one of those pieces of good advice that’s spot on, simplistic, and doesn’t require a lot of effort to put into action. Inclusion can be incredibly impactful for people of any age, and it’s a proven way to knock down barriers of unhappiness, loneliness, and depression.

When students quit an activity, it’s often because they felt excluded. They don’t want to dedicate an hour or two after school every day for something that’s not fun, and it’s not fun to be relegated to the sidelines instead of being an active participant. The same goes for adults in the workplace. Employees at all levels of an organization become disgruntled or look for another job when they don’t feel valued, rewarded, or engaged.

I did some work for a company that provides cultural training. Its research showed that companies focused on meeting diversity mandates are usually able to achieve their goals and check off the right boxes. But if employees didn’t feel included in company decisions, they were likely to leave.

Diversity without inclusion ended up having a more negative effect on a company than not having diversity at all. Although inclusion and diversity often get lumped together, they’re very different. Inclusion transcends diversity. People in general, regardless of their demographic, want to feel included, whether it’s socially, in business, or in a school activity.

Positive, encouraging words are part of the package. They help people feel important and valued, which in turn leads to loyalty and a more optimistic view. I’ve seen a couple of studies that demonstrated the impact of words on plants. One was conducted last year by Ikea.

Ikea put two dracaena plants in a school. One plant received constant compliments through a looped voice recording made by students, and the other plant received hateful words, which were akin to bullying. Both plants were in controlled environments to ensure the same amount of water, sunlight, and fertilizer. The only difference was the words they heard. After 30 days, the complimented plant thrived, while the plant hearing negative words started to wilt.

There may be a reason other than the choice of words that caused the difference in the plants. One theory is that students said the negative words louder, maybe even shouting, and the higher decibels of sound influenced the growth.

At the same time, the idea that plants benefit when they’re talked to goes all the way back to 1848 when a German professor, Gustav Fechner, wrote a book that translates to “Soul-Life of Plants.” He said conversing with plants encourages their growth. It’s safe to say that if kind words help plants, they can have a positive affect on humans too.

If you’re like me, there are days when you talk to yourself more than you talk to others. Researchers call this “self-talk.” When self-talk is positive and optimistic, it can improve your well being, enhance overall quality of life, and deliver health benefits such as relieving stress. Many athletes know this. That’s why, for example, they encourage themselves as they run to help with endurance, or tell themselves they can power-up heavy weights before actually completing the lift.

The power of self-talk reminds me of another social post I saw recently. It said, “Of all the people on the planet, you talk to yourself more than anyone. Make sure you are saying the right things.”

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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