Know Thyself: A Personal Theory of Change

We are sharing our own thoughts in response to this months prompt (Refer back to The Invitation if you have questions about what we’re doing here).

Libby Smith shares their thoughts on our prompt: What does it look like to go to work with your values intact?

Over the past four years I’ve gravitated towards practices that help myself and others express their authentic self. Whether through teaching interpersonal effectiveness or through hosting breathwork circles, my work centers deep self-awareness and compassion for others through understanding our shared humanity. This work not only supports my values, but I know it will also help other people to clarify and live their own values.

When we move towards understanding our authentic self we often realize we have been living out of alignment with our values. As I moved through this work myself, I realized that I couldn’t truly define my values. I knew I believed in concepts like equality and justice, but there was no logic model to explain how I would realize these values in my work.

Today, part of my ongoing reflective practice is to do a quarterly review of the values that I have defined and reflect on how they are being expressed through me. This understanding of the self, clarifying of values, becoming accountable to yourself and others, is the root system of collective healing and transformative change.

Do your work and you’ll be able to teach people from the path that you’ve personally walked. – Lindsay Mack

When we live and work out of alignment with our values we do harm to our self and others. In trauma psychology, this is defined as moral injury. Usually used to describe the traumatic effect on soldiers who witness or perpetrate harm in battle, the concept can also apply to the erosive effect of working in organizations and institutions that perpetuate systemic oppression.

In this moment in history, many of us are just waking up to the ways that we (and the organizations we work for) have upheld white supremacy. As evaluators, we have the skills to build our personal theory of change, a model for how we will both understand and live our values. It’s time we hold ourselves and our organizations accountable for acting on the values we have claimed to support for so long.

2 thoughts on “Know Thyself: A Personal Theory of Change

  1. Here’s an interesting question that I think is important to consider: what have you sacrificed for holding to your values? While sacrifice in and of itself is not necessary or required for maintaining values, experiencing it certainly has given me food for both reflection of what those values mean, but also what happens when people change or limit their values due to fear, pain, or convenience.

    The easiest sacrifice I can identify for holding to my values has been losing a job. I had the privilege of being able to navigate job loss at the time, but I know many people do not have that luxury. So when people sacrifice their values because they need to survive financially or any other way, where does that place them?

    Also, I have noticed moral injury in the build up of entitlement and disconnect for perpetrators of intimate partner violence, much of that from reducing value in their partners and family in favor of self-achievement or comfort. I don’t think those reasons are much different than where people degrade their values within the workplace.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I find it helpful to look at the layers of values I work from and within – individual, cultural, organizational, etc. and recognizing (naming) the tensions within and between the values I hold within and across those layers and how they show up in different circumstances.

    I can never live all the values I hold completely – because some values I have don’t (and won’t) align with each other. It’s a constant navigation. What values are in play? To what extent and how am I acting in a way that upholds the values I think/say matter? How can I maximize the array values I hold in this context? What are the compromises and consequences I am willing to make/endure? I regularly comprise some values in order to lift up other values. I find that naming when that happens and being intentional helps me align my choices and my values – and get clearer about what values are most central to my choices.

    I’ve noticed that the values conversation in evaluation has been pretty limited and tended to be more about values held by evaluators and less about making values explicit and navigating values across people and systems as part of evaluative work. How do we make values an explicit part of evaluative work and recognize different sources of and tensions between values? When values are not shared or are in conflict among people and systems how to do we note/address/reflect that?

    How do we make clearer that the lens through which ‘value’ is determined as part of evaluation (aka what is good practice, good outcomes, etc.) is dependent on what is valued and by whom? The default has been that the values of whoever is paying for the evaluand or the evaluation are implicitly the ones used (or at least the ones most prominent) – and the evaluator can either accept that or not. Mathea Roorda’s work linking evaluation criteria with ethical lenses has been helpful to me in thinking about this.

    We need to find a way to effectively raise and talk about it when program/initiative success is driven/determined by values held by people who are least affected by the work. I don’t have the way, but that’s been on my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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