I have been thinking a lot about integrity lately. It is my favorite of social work’s six core values, perhaps because it is the most all-encompassing. The word can represent honesty, competence, kindness, and morality. For a social worker, having integrity means promoting social justice and universal well-being in your service of diverse communities.
For a political social worker, this can look and feel more complicated. Instead of being out in the field, meeting people where they are, providing direct services, we dress up in our suits and spend our days talking to other people in suits about how to solve the problems that other social workers are meeting head-on. Especially in the Texas House of Representatives, promoting social justice can feel like repeatedly running into a brick wall.
Nearly 200 people died because of February’s winter storm, and the House has so far prioritized restricting where state agency leaders may reside and easing energy companies’ financial stress over providing direct aid to impacted communities or regulating the industries that failed them (without testimony from any parties not financially involved in this failed system, I might add). Over 100 people were killed by Texas police in 2019, yet the State Affairs committee voted out legislation that would punish cities for reforming and reallocating their police budgets to strengthen public safety and trust. Climate change is bringing increasingly extreme and dangerous weather to our state and the globe, yet many legislators would choose to divest from private companies that support reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and maintaining higher efficiency standards instead of promoting that practice.
In this position, I don’t have much power to say what’s on my mind. This isn’t going to help. This will make the problem worse. This will end up killing people. Et cetera. The legislature is a challenging workplace in which to practice integrity. Social work values implore us to meet people where they are, learn with others, and appreciate the diversity of perspectives that exist in any community, including a community of state representatives known for its extreme fiscal and social conservatism. At the same time, we have an obligation to promote social justice and serve vulnerable communities more than we are called to appeal to the needs of these legislators. In this work, I have had to figure out ways to communicate that bring my audience in and don’t step on too many toes, even when both my head and heart are telling me to speak more boldly.
There seems to be a personal version of this value, integrity, that has to do with sticking to your principles and a professional version that is more focused on achieving goals, neither of which can I conclusively say is more “morally” correct. It’s like that eternal philosophical battle between prioritizing the means versus the ends. There is absolutely an argument for both, and choosing one over the other seems to be more an issue of personal preference than moral conviction, at least from my privileged point of view as someone with few direct experiences with marginalization.
I think in circles around things like this all the time. I surprised myself earlier this session with how easily I was able to compromise my beliefs to write a more politically favorable bill analysis, figuring if I was more direct, some legislators might be turned off from our organization entirely based on my personal (fact-based, to my credit) perspective. That’s how I justify it, anyway, and what are values if not extremely personal and ambiguous justifications for our actions? Do the legislators who make verifiably untrue statements with the goal of pleasing their constituents exhibit any less integrity than I do when I compromise my beliefs to appease the powers that be?
Of course I would like to think so, but wouldn’t everyone?
by Hannah Hall, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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