As the Summer rain doused the dying embers of 2018, I made a commitment to myself to forge a closer alignment between the values I preached and the actions I practiced. Not your average New Year’s resolution, granted. But I had long forsaken party drugs, had taken up unicycling three years earlier and, in 2017, had kicked my processed sugar addiction to the curb. Frankly there wasn’t much left.
Living in alignment with our core values shouldn’t be that hard, right? Most of us have already picked the low-hanging fruit: Refraining from sleeping with our best friend’s spouse or assaulting strangers with shopping trolleys for failing to maintain social distance in the confectionary aisle. We generally have the basics covered. But the very fact that I was still striving to live a congruent life at fifty-three got me reflecting on why it’s such a challenge to consistently experience a oneness of values, thoughts and actions, in everyday life.
The fact is that our social realities are constructed for us over a lifetime, by a complex mosaic of other people’s values. We are told how to dress, how to eat, how to walk and how to pray. We are taught who to love and who to hate. All these teachings, implicit and explicit, are framed by rigid constructs of gender, race, sexuality and perceived ability, and reinforced by the crippling corsetry of social expectation. So powerful are the scripts we memorise and go on to recite that well-meaning platitudes of just be yourself are about as helpful to our personal emancipation as a set of stairs to a wheel-chair user. “C’mon, you can do it!”
The remarkable women in the picture accompanying this article are revered because they are willing to do the hard work. They question everything, challenge anyone, speak their truth and hold themselves to account. They do all this in hostile environments, at great personal expense, in the relentless pursuit of living lives of authenticity and integrity. And in doing so, they provide leadership and inspiration to girls and women, and increasingly – I hope – to boys and men.
Integrity is wholeness, the bonding together of all our parts. Or in the words of author and academic, Katrina Mayer, it is ‘making sure that the things you say and the things you do are in alignment’.
There is a jolly good reason why anyone planning to market a new venture at the moment, whether restauranteur or real estate agent, would be guaranteed success by simply naming their business Jacinta Ardern’s. Who would have known that strong leadership, integrity and genuine empathy would be such a winning combo?
O.K., so it hasn’t escaped me that I conduct my examinations from the dubious mantle of male privilege. Perhaps contrary to self-interest, I suggest it is wise to view with a measure of scepticism any charismatic white, male figure, proselytising before a captive audience. It may only be so long before he’s asking you to drink strawberry Kool-Aid or inject yourself with household disinfectant. Just putting it out there.
Today I feel closer than ever to living an integrated life. I have a wonderful husband by my side and two beautiful children, who constantly remind me that I’m definitely not the smartest person in the room. It took me decades to unravel the unhelpful narratives and belief systems that kept me tethered to self-deprecation and an unwillingness to live a fully actualised existence. I’m glad I began the journey and I look forward to its continuation.
Today I have the privilege of supporting others on similar (and different) journeys. I will always strive to do this from a place of honesty, integrity and respect.
…And not even the slightest whiff of Pine-O-Clean.