We spent our time this week in WILL discussing the individual components of the social change model: Consciousness of Self, Commitment, and Congruency. Congruent people are defined as “those whose actions are consistent with their most deeply held beliefs and convictions.”
Congruency is essentially “walking the walk and talking the talk,” which also happens to be one of our WILL values. It won’t be the only time these words and phrases show up in WILL, and for good reason: congruency is important. While all 7 values of the Social Change Model matter in activism, living your life in congruency with your values (coupled with using consciousness of self to discover those values) will have one of the biggest impacts in the quality and authenticity of your own life and your personal growth.
But I have a secret: I am not being congruent.
Specifically, I’m referring to an upcoming decision of mine that I’ll be making: I’m going to get married.
…That might not make a ton of sense to you (and that’s okay! It’s not something everyone does or should know). After all, isn’t marriage something that everyone does at some point in their life? I don’t want this section to take up a lot of space, but allow me to give a little bit of context into my disdain for marriage. I don’t believe in the institution of marriage that our culture has set up. Marriage as it exists in our society today is a racist, patriarchal tool of colonialism. Even accounting for the recent decision to allow same-gender couples to get married, it is, and always has been, a way for the government to dictate what forms of relationships are okay and to endow special rights to those specific people.
“Civil marriage is a tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation by establishing a favored form and rewarding it (in the U.S., for example, with over one thousand benefits). While marriage is being rewarded, other ways of organizing family, relationships and sexual behavior do not receive these benefits and are stigmatized and criminalized. In short, people are punished or rewarded based on whether or not they marry.”
Via http://www.organizingupgrade.com/index.php/modules-menu/beyond-capitalism/item/1002-marriage-will-never-set-us-free. I highly, highly encourage you to read that article to get a much better understanding of both my beliefs and of the institution of marriage in our society in general.
As for why I’m getting married, even though I don’t agree with or believe in it? The answer is simple: My partner Robyn needs to get on my health insurance in order to start her transition. I need to get on her car insurance in order to make it to and from work. We need a joint bank account to manage our bills and household and we need more money in our tax returns to pay our rent. I need to sign a life-long non-renewable contract with my partner in order to keep surviving. I don’t like it, I hate it actually, but these are things that I, and we, are finding it very difficult and risky to survive without (and believe me, we have been trying for the past five years).
Clearly, this hasn’t been a quick or an easy decision. But I’ve had a lot of time to think in these five years that I’ve been grappling with this issue, and it’s caused me to think about all of the other times in my life when I haven’t been congruent, even times when I haven’t been congruent and didn’t give the decision a second thought. I hate capitalism, yet I have a job and intend to have a career eventually. I need money to pay my rent. I don’t believe in the patriarchal leadership model, yet I’m the president of two different student organizations. I need activities to go on my resume. I believe in buying local and contributing to small businesses, yet I often shop at Kroger and Target. I’m poor. I think Apple is an extremely evil corporation, yet I own an iPhone and a Macbook Pro. I need them to do my job.
Things are more complicated than just “Is this congruent or not?”
In this society, we unfortunately don’t have the leisure to make every decision based solely off our own internal ethical compass. We have to survive. And survival is not pretty or easy. It’s very often compromising your values and integrity. It’s allowing oppressive comments to slide by at work. It’s making an advertisement campaign for McDonalds. It’s shopping at Wal-Mart. It’s working at Wal-Mart. It’s selling out to make money and then having to give that money to evil, monopolistic corporations, and then having to make more money. Survival sucks.
But we have to do it, because our survival is the most important thing. And that’s okay. Holding up a shining model of congruency and saying that this is the goal we all must reach will only make us feel worse. It will cause us to feel like we are not only bad activists, but bad people. It will make us feel stuck in-between a rock and a hard place: on one side, perfect social justice advocacy, and on the other, harsh patriarchal/capitalistic reality. It’s impossible for us to be completely congruent with our core beliefs and values in the society we live in.
But we shouldn’t expect it of anyone. We have a tendency in more liberal-leaning feminist circles to model individualist social justice and activism as the end-all solution, but blaming and holding individuals accountable isn’t actually the answer, and it doesn’t work. We do not all exist in individual vacuums, and we can’t be held responsible for every action we must take. We exist within the context of many oppressive systems. This is why the Social Change Model has group and community components, and why we shouldn’t try to (and can’t) perfectly model any one part. While we should always strive to constantly grow and learn, we can’t blame ourselves when we are forced to compromise our congruency. The best we can do is be conscious of our actions, learn to identify and recognize how larger systems play into our decisions, and keep fighting the good fight.
Jack Crofts is a second year WILLer and 7th year senior studying Communication Design and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. They are always ready for a good fight.