Periodically I find that I have to check in with myself and my values.
I was talking with a floor mate and she insisted that we have to ‘prioritize’ things. By this she meant that some values and truths that we find to be important we have to set aside, ignore the injustice of breaking them and the harm that this ignorance causes. She said that you had to ‘pick your battles,’ that you couldn’t do everything.
Insistently, I said that we could do everything, that there was no cause so trivial to be put aside. I found her statements repugnant: It’s an impossible and disrespectful task to determine which life is more worthy of your time. Lifestyles are inherently political; all aspects of a lifestyle should be aligned with the individual’s moral views. While resources may be limited, ingenuity is not. If your morals do not apply to your actions, you do not actually believe your morals. I tried to explain how I structured my life in alignment with this belief.
In some places I could clearly articulate what I meant: I changed majors from something that was based in military applications (mechanical engineering) to one that was not only harmless but an important part of conserving the world’s culture (art conservation). Even my achievement and choice of university was a political statement: a raised-poor biracial woman can go to MIT to pursue a degree in engineering. I could also explain how I choose to purchase products that are generally organic and/or fair trade. I could even point to the fact that I was engaging in this conversation and the risk I have faced in spreading my beliefs.
However in other places, I found myself struggling to find the bright line between my intent and my effect. While I don’t believe that individual choices within capitalism are a means of changing our larger social structure, I find that it is irresponsible to ignore the meaning in small changes of purchasing and responsibility. For example, I don’t think that my recycling is going to fix America’s lack of sustainability. On the other hand, I can’t point to any direct action I’ve taken to change America’s policies outside of my own awareness and the individual conversations I’ve had. Pointing to the resources available, I can say how much fair trade food I can afford to seek out and buy. But I cannot find a way to choose which products to purchase, which to ‘prioritize.’
Always, articulating your values to another person is a valuable experience because it forces you to confront contradictions and vacancies. Because of this conversation, I came to a better understanding of what I want and what I am doing. Basically I know that I’m not causing harm but I am not actually making progress towards my beliefs being adopted by others or helping others.
I want to find out how I can better bring my daily actions in line with my values. In particular, I’ve increasingly been focused on how to turn my feminism into practice. What does ‘solidarity with women’ mean? I live on a women’s floor. I choose to write my papers on women’s contributions with women authors. I read and think about women’s issues. But what does this mean in daily practice?
I would love to hear how others balance this or put their beliefs into practice. I think this is something that will take a long time for me to fully achieve, but I do want to begin working towards the goals I see for myself and the world. If I can speak about change, I must also act as I speak.