Julie Bell of Women for Independence's National Committee writes about integrity in politics and what it might actually mean.
What does it mean to us?
Does it mean following our own paths, no matter what?
Does it mean finding common ground?
Does it mean standing up to bullies?
How does it feel when we ‘do’ integrity?
Do we recognise those moments when our integrity is all we have?
Is our integrity separate from ‘us’ and something we only call in when there’s no other choice?
Over many years, I’ve had reason to explore and consider my own integrity, what it means to me and how I live it, as I am sure we all have. I have placed myself in potentially job-losing scenarios, made mistakes, recovered and learned, like pretty much everyone I know.
I currently find myself drawing on all my reserves of integrity as I deal with issues in the political arena. Situations I would never have dreamed I would find myself in, if it had not been for Women for Independence. There will no doubt be many sisters reading this who are in the same boat. This is for all of us.
The touchstone for me here that links me to my integrity is ‘doing politics differently’.
Yet the women in politics, brought front and centre this week by the Conservative and Labour party leadership battles, are not doing politics differently. They are being women in a man’s environment, following patriarchal societal rules, and that way lies disaster if we are to bring about the kind of change I believe motivated us to become more politically active in the first place. Doing politics differently is realising that women behaving as badly as men is not the feminist way; that not all women are feminists; that some men are better feminists than some women.
The challenge for us is sticking with it through this difficult period of transition, bearing witness to ‘old’ behaviours in the political sphere, challenging the crusty old dinosaurs of whichever gender and being true to our integrity. Even when – and especially when – our voice shakes, our stomachs churn and our hearts thump as if they are about to escape from our chests.
The temptation, and the reality, of course, may result in expedient behaviours as a last resort when all else fails. And do you know what? Don’t beat yourself up too much – reflect, learn, move on.
People tend not to do change very well – there’s an inbuilt resistance to moving out of our comfort zones and we see the impacts of this in rising levels of sickness absence and levels of stress in the workplace and in global conflicts and strife, racial tensions and, indeed, Brexit.
Be assured: change is already happening. It’s painful, though, and this will be tough for everyone, but it’s toughest for those with most to lose, be they states, political parties or individuals who fear loss of their power. Those dinosaurs again! Remember that we have our own power – it belongs to no-one else. Own it. Stand in it. Like Ieshia Evans in Baton Rouge – what a goddess she is!
There will be days we just have to get through – this is where our support networks are critical to our survival in this period of transition. Getting through the day, on those days, is a triumph, make no mistake.
Seek out like-minded souls who will have our back and whose own integrity matches ours. Seek out those who raise us up. Seek out those who keep us safe, sane and laughing. Soon, there will be more of those than there are of them and we can completely move away from these negative behaviours, attitudes and machinations.
Look to role models to help us replicate the way we want to do things. Look to those amazing women who have already trodden the path into the political arena. My WFI sisters have been gifts from the goddesses – they have helped me get my feisty on, when my natural inclination is to soften and bend towards compromise (for there are truly times feisty is the only option!).
As women, we have a unique opportunity to step up to the plate and challenge the status quo. We can do so with dignity, with insight, calm, humour and integrity.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I have ever received is to consider the Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz:
- Be impeccable with your word: speak with integrity.
- Don't take anything personally: nothing others do is because of you.
- Don't make assumptions: find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.
- Always do your best: your best is going to change from moment to moment.
Let us be a role model for those who come behind – not because of who is watching but because it’s the right thing to do. Be a positive force for change. Be open and transparent, not underhand. Be honest, because that is the only choice. Be heart-centred. Be mindful, especially of how we feel. Don’t lose ourselves in the crisis and the urgency: most of all, remember what’s important and who is important. Find balance. Stay grounded and resilient. Walk on beaches and in mountains. Feel the wind in our hair and breathe in the scent of flowers. Surround ourselves with supportive, powerful women who nourish, nurture and love us. Turn our faces to the sun so that the shadows fall behind. Be the light that shines brightly. Set the world on fire.
Together, let’s be the bright, shiny comet that annihilates those dinosaurs once and for all. From a place of love, naturally.
WFI NEC member