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Invitations in Everything

August 21, 2014

IMG_0313We’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of invitation – who can we invite?  how?  where?  And, the opposite: how are we excluding people?  In a field where “inclusion” is a catchword, how do we manage to end up in rooms full of… um… just us.  

I was struck by this blog entry by Seth Godin, “They’re Your Words; Choose Them.”  Godin says let’s be reflective for a minute about how we communicate with each other, even in the most off-handed way, with the signs we put up: 

You’ve seen the signs:




Guess what? There’s no legal requirement that signs have to make you sound like a harsh jerk in order to carry weight or to inform the public.

To keep our prices as low as possible, we only accept cash. The good news is that there’s an ATM next door.

Careful! We’d like to watch your stuff for you, but we’re busy making coffee.

Our spotlessly clean restrooms are for our beloved customers only, so come on in and buy something! Also, there’s a public bathroom in the library down the street.

In fact, you might find that when you speak clearly and with respect, you not only communicate more effectively, but people are less likely to blame you when something goes wrong.

Even without a personal exchange, we’re sending messages all the time.  

So I was pretty delighted to find this teacup kitten sign made and posted by Madeleine, who has taken over the front desk in Judy’s absence, over our dishwasher at the office.  Also, I noticed that the counters were spotless and there were no dirty dishes in the sink.  And then I put mine in the dishwasher too.  

I was talking to someone about this sign and they said that where they once worked there was a sign that said “You’re not a 5 year old, put your dishes in the dishwasher and stop expecting your mother to clean up after you!”  They said, “I just felt so crappy about our work, every time I looked up at that sign….”   I also wondered, given the history of criticism that folks we support often come from, how this kind of sign might trigger people we support.  

So, here’s a question – who is responsible for the sign?  Assuming it wasn’t the leader of the place who put up the cranky sign, is it the person who made it and taped it up or is it the leader who didn’t address it?  

The signs we put up are not a big thing, but if we spend a few minutes reflecting on how our public messages invite or exclude or what they might make others feel like, and create opportunities to lead others in such reflections, we might continue on to consider the other ways in which we communicate with each other.   

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2014 7:42 am

    Fantastic idea to focus on and write about 🙂 The public messages are always there, so all you can do is stand out by being personal. When I imagine each person I want to see (again or for the first time) at the event I am planning has a ‘what’s in it for me?’ caption, my actions are going to be really different at every step. It starts with a mailed formal invitation that has a personal handwritten scratch on it about why they should come and to make sure to forward the invite on to your common friends, ‘ ___, ___, and ___.’ People have more fun at events when they go with their friends.

    • September 2, 2014 12:05 pm

      Coming with friends is a great idea. creating community all the time is not only attractive but wise. We feel more able to respond in learning when we do it in a friendship or shared activity with a friend.

  2. Alison Taplay permalink
    August 25, 2014 6:46 am

    Signs are very clear symbols of the culture in our work places! I agree it’s even more important when our work places are people’s homes, programs, etc. Thanks for starting a conversation about the importance of the words we choose. It’s always a good exercise to reflect on the congruence of our words and our values.

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