When is acceptance of a situation better than changing it? As a product of the sixties, I remember well my generation’s belief that just about everything, not only the Vietnam War, but conventional norms and OUR PARENTS, needed to change. However, I read a different view on personal change in an email I received this week, which initially challenged my thinking. It was a note from the ToDo Institute promoting a book called Deliberate Love. The premise of the book is that we “desire something other than what is…perhaps the perfect wife, the perfect husband.” If not a change in someone else we want to see a change in ourselves. We know there are others out there who are “happy,” “fulfilled,” “successful” and we want to have what they have. To do this we must change. Or should we? The book’s author, Jim Roberts, is quoted as saying, “… after many years as both a provider and a consumer of psychotherapy, I think there is too much emphasis on change and not enough of acceptance. Accepting reality is not just a seemly alternative we can settle for as a consolation for not getting what we want. Accepting things as they are is a prerequisite for good mental health, inner peace, and relationship harmony.” Easy to say, harder to do. But it does explain why some friendships and relationships last and others don’t.
The ToDo book review adds this note, “Whether we are conscious of it or not, the thousands of choices we make each day in directing the focus of our attention determine the quality of our lives and our relationships.” Presumably, attending to qualities we like in others, instead of hoping they will make changes to eliminate the qualities we don’t like, helps us avoid criticizing and complaining and, therefore, helps maintain emotional balance. I will argue with the author, however, that for many people, acceptance is a form of change and is more likely to come as we age. As I grow older, “good mental health” and “relationship harmony” sound a lot more important than “success” and “personal fulfillment,” but the latter guided my decisions at a younger age, and “accepting reality” wouldn’t have caught my attention at all. These notions force themselves upon me only as I start to count the years I may have left.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the author, Eckhart Tolle who has written, ‘The Power of Now’. This was a life-changing book for me and something I work on maintaining. It required a complete change in how I think – for one thing, letting go of the past and stop worrying about the future. He speaks of accepting what is, instead of fighting it. Before I read his book, I hadn’t realized how much time I spent in either the past or future and how little time in the “Now”.
Perhaps notions of success and personal fulfillment are nature’s way of driving young people forward–growth, learning, etc.–and are therefore necessary to producing an independent adult, even if some are driven toward risky behavior. If everyone ‘accepted’ conditions and selves as they are, we might not have progress, positive change, better mousetraps. . . or revolutions. Acceptance is definitely appealing in the ‘wisdom years’ however.
Your post and the comments remind me of Ecclesiastes: “To everything, there is a season.” I think there’s a value to being young and restless (not The Young and The Restless, however) and impatient with the old ways of doing things. That’s how humans evolve. And then, if we are lucky to actually get older after all of that bashing and smashing, we find a value in acceptance. Jill provided you with one excellent book; I also commend a book called “Radical Acceptance.” I may not agree with everything in it, but it was a very thought-provoking book about acceptance and forgiveness as a method of moving on. Americans tend to cast some life events as “unforgiveable” (I can’t imagine coming to terms with a history of child abuse, for example), but the author proposes that just that mind-set keeps people paralyzed in a sea of recrimination and hate. Difficult to move forward without “letting go.” Thanks once again, Ann, for a post that got my mental juices flowing!