This is not my next real post in the series, it is just an amuse-bouche delivered to cleanse your palate between regular posts.
After my first post in The Congruent Leader series I got a request to give an example of Congruence and my spontaneous reaction was “Oh yes, of course.” I’ve been considering the topic since and I realized that an example will not make the topic justice. It’s quite easy to give examples of incongruence, for example whenever we blame, placate or ignore around important issues. Congruence though is all about the Self, the Other and the Context and all of these perspectives are so complex in themselves that it’s impossible to convey the preconditions in such a way that we even begin to do them justice in a way where we all see the same situation. What is Congruent to me might not be your Congruent response to the same situation because it will not be the same situation when we switch places. After thinking about this I decided to offer an exercise instead for you to self evaluate your responses and options to see which ones you find most Congruent. Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in talking about your ideas after doing this exercise. My hope is that the upcoming posts in this series will help you with tools to come up with even more Congruent options in the future if you follow my blog. If anyone finds this exercise valuable I will try to come up with more in the future and I think it might be interesting to revisit them as I add on tools.
The exercise I’ll describe is taken from a real world example with additional complexity that I won’t disclose here but I found the situation in itself useful as a thought experiment. If the person who shared this with me originally happens to find their way here I hope that you’re ok with me borrowing some of the set-up.
Imagine yourself sitting in a movie theater. Mid-movie you get a phone call and it turns out that you had forgotten to set you phone on silent. While you’re fumbling with your phone to turn it off the person next to you in the theater stares at you and loudly in a very disdainful tone proclaims: “You need to stop that crap immediately!”
Consider that the person next to you is:
- A family member
- A person you’re with on a first date
- An unknown old man
- An unknown teenage girl
- A biker with a vest signaling membership in a criminal gang
The movie is:
- A silly rom-com
- Schindler’s list
Questions to consider in the different scenarios:
- What would be your spontaneous response in this situation?
- What could be a more Congruent response to the situation?
- Do you have access to all possible responses or are there external factors that limit your choices? What are they and why?
- Are there internal factors where you yourself are taking away the possibility of certain responses? What are they and why?
- How does your age, gender, ethnicity and social status affect the situation and your response? To whom might this be an entirely different situation?
Keep in mind how Congruence is about taking Self, Other and Context into account. What is the Context and how does it affect the situation? Who is the Other and in what ways do you account for them?
Can you be apologetic without placating? Can you be angry without blaming? Can you be objective without acting like a robot? Can you acknowledge all your feelings? Can you empathize with the other?
What is Congruence to you in this movie theater?
Going from the questions at the end, it occurred to me that being Congruent is a quality of action, but also an internal activity. Would you say that Congruency (upper-case, Satir’s concept) has to do with congruency (lower-case, mathematical term) of the outer action and the inner thought/feelings? That they are in some way, the same shape?
What happens when there is a huge power/experience differential between two people that consideration of other is just not feasible (epistemic injustice comes to mind)…. no way can there be same shaped-ness – ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes without wildly guessing wrong…. I suppose congruence is about getting yourself on a path to congruency more than an ‘arrival state’…. if that makes sense.
I would say that congruence with self is one part of Satir’s concept of Congruence. Lacking inner congruence will stand in the way for the larger concept of balancing Self, Other and Context. One way to look at inner congruence is through Virginia’s Five Freedoms (I’ll probably write a bit on them later on):
The freedom to see and hear what is here, instead of what “should” be, was, or will be.
The freedom to say what you feel and think, instead of what you “should” feel and think.
The freedom to feel what you feel, instead of what you “ought” to feel.
The freedom to ask for what you want, instead of always waiting for permission.
The freedom to take risks on you own behalf, instead of choosing to be only secure.
By being able to exercise the Five Freedoms we are more likely to expose congruence (lower-case) but for true Congruence (upper-case) we need to do it in relation to the Other’s Five Freedoms as well.
To connect to Andrea’s comment; if we have a “huge power differential” Congruence will become much more difficult to accomplish. How would a black man in the US exercise his Five Freedoms when being pulled over by the police? How can I as a CIS, middle-aged, white man act Congruently with a non-binary young person and ensure that they feel safe to exercise their Five Freedoms in relation to me? What happens if the two of us are on either side of the Movie Theatre example above?
I don’t have good answers to all of these questions but being aware of who we are in relation to the Other, by acting based on this and by acknowledging that we might have a privilege to access more degrees of freedom than the Other, might be a starting point on the path towards Congruence.
Hello Morgan – what a great exercise! I might steal it (or modify it slightly) and pass on the goodness of this experiential exercise. What I like is that the reflective prompts to get people thinking include external and internal influencing factors. I would love to do this live with a group and just might. I’ve tried a similar exercise with You are a manager, and someone arrives late at a meeting. How would you respond with each of the incongruent stances, or with a congruent stance. This is really important work and the thing I never forget about it is: it doesn’t really take but a tiny extra bit of willingness and awareness about oneself to ‘try on’ a new way of responding – even if what is underlying our day to day human behavior is ‘complex’ and sometimes unpredictable… the results might be life changing. Keep your posts up – I love the energy you put out there on congruence!
Hi Andrea! I’m so glad you appreciate my writing and for taking your time to comment. I really value your thoughts. If you find the exercise useful in your setting just reuse it and modify to your needs. I’d love to learn about your improvements. I borrowed the context myself from a story I heard a couple of weeks back and part of the exercise is inspired by one shared with me by Val Monk (thank you Val) that we used in a session a month ago. Let’s just keep adding, mixing, improving and sharing in the pool of ideas.