Photo by Alvan-Bidal Sanchez

When we invite others to participate, we offer so much.

We offer acceptance, we offer welcome, we offer space, we offer engagement, we offer attention and, perhaps most importantly, we offer ourselves. Inviting others to participate with us is deeply challenging.

Sharing a meal at a neutral location, meeting for coffee or drinks, a group hiking excursion, joining in protest – these are perhaps not as challenging, because although we are offering our own values or preferences for judgement by the person or people we are inviting to participate with us, there are limits to intimacy that can be observed by both parties. Those activities, generally, are not intimate and do not encourage letting others see a deeply personal side of us. We can be on our best behavior (yes, even in protest), we can show ourselves well and there is an easy transition to either more intimacy or less or the same. We have options at this point.

But when we invite others to truly participate with us – to join our lives, our passions, our successes and our failures – we invite them to be intimate with us, to see us as we are, to meet our true selves and to judge those things based on their own values and experiences. For this to be successful, there has to be a partnering of maturity, an acknowledgement of the value of what we are offering or being offered, and an agreement on the beauty that is inherent in an invitation to participate.

You have to be brave to invite someone to participate with you when you aren’t sure how they will respond to you or to the things you love.

You have to be mature when you invite someone to participate with you, because they might be different from you and you may have to accommodate for and adjust to those differences.

You have to be kind to invite someone to participate with you, because they may not have the courage, maturity or kindness to ask others to participate with them.

The common thread of bravery, maturity and kindness is that they are actions. These are not things that we recognize through words. These are not things that people can claim without evidence. In fact, they are qualities one should not have to speak in describing oneself – they should be descriptions others offer about you.

These are the qualities that are required if we are to invite others to participate with us. If we don’t possess them, we cannot make a genuine offer of participation. We can allow others to participate, we can not allow others to participate, but we cannot invite them. Nor can they invite us to participate if they don’t possess these qualities.

It can be heartbreaking to invite someone to participate only to have them burn you, to betray you or to refuse you. The deeper the intimacy when that relationship breaks, the more painful. The more important the act is to us that we invite participation, the more we hurt when others choose not to, or to turn their invitation for participation into an opportunity to hurt us. Painful as those experiences are, they do not change the essentials for participation, and they do not have to prevent us from continuing to invite others to participate.

The invitations you extend are your choice. The depth of participation you offer is your choice. The others that you invite to participate are your choice. That is the really great thing about inviting others to participate – it is your choice. As you make those choices, I invite you to participate with me in demonstrating bravery, maturity and kindness when you extend those invitations. If those qualities are not your strengths, may I suggest that you can identify others who do possess them, and act with the fourth and most important quality for participation:

Honesty.

Admit what you lack, offer a vision for what you want, identify what challenges you will have to achieving these qualities and invite others to participate with you as you work toward them. Inviting others to participate is an act that can change you in ways you could never imagine, and build a strong community around you that you never knew you needed.