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.