Living Congruently In An Incongruent World

Congruence is a term commonly found in psychology, philosophy, chemistry, and mathematics. While each field defines it somewhat differently, its meaning stems from the Latin origin of "to come together and correspond with." 

Congruence is when two things fit well together. Whether it be sides of a triangle that are joined in harmony or two equally-shaped slices of bread placed one over the other, congruent figures are revealed to us daily. 

However, not all instances of congruence are visible. Like many other ubiquitous and broad concepts, a large category possesses remarkable philosophical potential. Therefore, we do what we always do and translate such definitions into visible symbols and interpretations to help ourselves better understand the meaning of life. 

What Does it Mean to Live Congruently?

About a year and a half ago, I attended a work conference in Scottsdale, AZ, entitled "Women in Tech." I found the name to be somewhat provoking since any other co-ed event of the sort wouldn't include a specific gender in the title, and I had never once heard of a "Men in Tech" conference before.

At this occasion, a series of speakers presented their wisdom and opinions surrounding various topics related to workplace environments, career fulfillment, and lifestyle. The first four speeches sounded like any other set of dialogue you've heard a thousand times before regarding those categories; however, the last one introduced a new take.

The speaker outlined congruence and how it goes beyond merely matching up your work setup to your lifestyle and routines. It was the first time I heard an ultra- "corporate" tone of voice take all of the other pillars of life into account, which is essential, especially when lining up your most important values and goals.

A tendency I've noticed, both in academic and scientific communities and a wide range of other professions, is our tendency to create silos of advice that only actually apply to the said category of daily life, as opposed to life as a whole. This is why we must discuss the concept of congruence at a macro level, as it touches all categories in some way or another.

Given the widespread epidemics across the world of misaligned values, decaying traditions, physical and mental health crises, downward-trending patterns of career fulfillment, the diminishing prevalence of religion and faith, the list goes on; I believe it is more important than ever to be discussing ways of removing toxins hindering each and every one of us from living in congruence, both on individual and societal levels. 

Because we are human and the world will never be rid of suffering, a good place to start is by accepting the simple truth that perfection is an impossibility. 

However, I believe we can perpetually inch closer by optimizing our lives through favorable physical and mental health, quality relationships and community surroundings, outlets for developing intellect and creativity, and frequent moments of spiritual acknowledgment and connection. 

Identifying Barriers

The college I attended, Chapman University, built a beautiful fountain in the middle of the plaza, consisting of four large granite slabs, all sized differently and facing opposite directions. Each slab contained lettering spelling out the names of the four pillars of wellness: intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual.

The Four Pillars of Wellness:
  • Intellectual - Encapsulates all experiences someone has and will encounter throughout life in education, skill-building, critical thinking, strategizing, ideating, and creation. The intellectual pillar is vital for the growth of the mind, career development, and contributory opportunities that benefit one's self, inner circle, community, and economy.
  • Physical - Focuses on maintaining physical and mental health and reducing the risk of illness or disease. 
  • Social - Embraces our innately human desires for acceptance, intimacy, respect, community, and a sense of belonging.
  • Spiritual - Acknowledges our connection to a higher power. The spiritual pillar refers to fostering a relationship to a belief system and purpose through habits and behaviors that align with one's values.

The four pillars of wellness have resonated with me since I first learned what each one correlated to. What I love most about its overall symbolism is its ability to overarch all categories of life. The discussion of congruence goes hand-in-hand with the four pillars and can help us begin to chip away at matching our wants and goals to our most deeply-rooted values. 

Everyone's lives consist of unique circumstances that make up each pillar. While one person's intellectual motivations may be oriented toward pursuing a career in medicine, another's may be in writing, mastering a sport, or teaching. 

For the physical pillar, everyone possesses a one-of-a-kind genetic code that sets us apart from the rest. Regarding health and wellness, some people are born with inherited conditions and propensities toward certain habits or diseases, while others aren't. Society continues to diagnose and treat patients in bulk. A custom approach to healthcare and maintenance has a leg up.

Every person's unique personality paves the way for all types of relationships, friendships, and social encounters. Some people are highly introverted, while others are innately extroverted. One of the most universal tendencies is our ongoing need for social interaction. We desire communal acceptance and companionship. 

Lastly, to acknowledge the realm of spirituality is to accept the fact of life that we do not know the answer to every existential question ever thought of or uttered since the dawn of existence. Maintaining the spiritual pillar of life allows us to keep our egos and consciousness in check through inquisitive reminders of how seemingly little we know about the universe, how much more there is to explore, and how we can come together as a species to discuss and create shared experiences that help point toward a greater power beyond our mere individual selves. 

A severe problem with today is there are so many obstacles we need help knowing where to begin on the path to achieving congruence. Maybe the silo-ed approach is the way to go; perhaps a better solution would be to target several simultaneously. 

A pattern I've recognized among friends, who are members of Gen-Z and Millennial age groups, is the widespread desire to move far away from home and live in a large city filled with heaps of young people, drugs, parties, stimulants, and cultural overload. I've witnessed this trend throughout towns all over the United States, and it isn't slowing down anytime soon.

I used to think that intentionally choosing to live in a city full of chaos, against one's core values and beliefs, made the objective of congruent living much more difficult. However, as of late, I've had a change in mindset. Although a city may have a different political landscape that doesn't reflect your personal values, it doesn't mean you must subscribe to all the predominant messaging and stances in that area. Similarly, just because health-inhibiting substances and behaviors are prevalent nearby in that city, it doesn't make it any harder to steer clear of them, comparatively to a smaller town where they are present also. 

My point in all of this correlates to a famous saying we've heard a million times already: 

"If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?"

If someone told you not to move to a city because the stereotypes in that area don't mesh with the same values and beliefs you grew up with, would you listen? If someone told you to treat a health condition with methods that aren't resulting in any observable improvement, would you continue doing it? If your current lifestyle habits and routines aren't generating any intrinsic personal gain or advancement, would you continue repeating them?

By utilizing critical thinking skills, we can start removing toxins hindering us from living congruently. One by one, toxins and obstacles can be identified, acknowledged, extracted, and then replaced by a variety of more-optimal approaches. 

The world is full of grey areas, and it would be cowardly to actively avoid locations, communities, and experiences with stereotypes that may seem at odds with your values. Maybe, through the intersection of more varying value sets, beliefs, backgrounds, and perspectives, we will find organic congruence via a shared acceptance of difference. 

Congruence, Made Visible

I do not want to live in a society where everything and everyone is the same. That is not what I mean by achieving congruence. 

Congruence is indicated when two people can have a civilized conversation about their unique perspectives and opinions on a topic without incurring negative judgment or disrespect toward one another. It is shown when a company's leadership team actively prioritizes its staff's physical health and well-being. Congruence is creating a lifestyle where your profession, projects, and activities align with your core values. And, most of all, congruence is made visible when you are your most authentic self.

I think many of us are still trying to discover our "true north." Perhaps no one really knows, and the fun in being human is we're along for the ride in figuring it out. 

In today's age of information overkill, contradicting opinions, various religious contexts, ebbing and flowing cultural trends, and ongoing debates, it has become more difficult than ever to carve out core values that harmonize with our intuition and logical, emotional, and social priorities. 

We mustn't forget the psychological fact that our inclination to prioritize social acceptance is powerful, even powerful enough to convince us that potentially-harmful ideas may be worth it to subscribe to solely for reaping the benefits of approval and praise from someone who holds the same point of view. I've seen that chain reaction first-hand, and I don't encourage the act of carelessly bypassing core values for the sake of obtaining immediate personal gain.

Embodying congruence and authenticity necessitates possessing a well-defined framework of principles that you adhere to as an individual. These guiding values must be continually referred to and openly communicated to others, as they represent the fundamental essence of your identity. Regrettably, many individuals have not dedicated the time and effort required to discern these personal values, let alone endeavor to put them into practice. 

Acknowledging and cultivating congruence brings about a significant benefit: a deeper human connection with those in your life. When core values are actively acknowledged, exemplified, and encouraged, inherent trust between individuals strengthens. This applies to various relationships, be it among friends, family members, significant others, or even co-workers. 

Attraction and connection: two things we are all looking for… congruence leads to both. 

The challenge lies in needing to truly know our beliefs and values. Often, we rush through life without taking the time to sharpen the saw and end up using the wrong tools or even chopping the wrong tree altogether. As the saying goes, it's crucial to stand for something, or else we risk falling for anything. Genuine fulfillment comes from living congruently with our authentic beliefs and values.

I am on the path to strengthening my own personal values and goals to live more congruently. While I'm not necessarily searching for a singular "true north" quite yet, I'd be open to letting that in if it arrives in the form of a compelling epiphany. 

For now, I'll keep symbols of congruence in mind as I continue crafting a lifestyle that prioritizes such values in the main aspects of life, both at home, professionally, and across relationships. After all, the sign of congruence sort of sticks.