Something I’ve been thinking about for a long time are the two roles we ask the word “acceptance” to play, as in, accepting something difficult or problematic in your life. There are times we mean “acceptance” as in “I accept that there’s nothing I can do about this.” And then there’s “acceptance” as in “I accept that this is the way it is right now,” purely on the level of wanting to believe things that are true. To elide the distinction is to think that your only options are resignation and denial.
I was recently reading Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book “Burnout,” on recognizing and overcoming its causes in yourself and society, and near the end they touch on this very issue:
Know what’s true. And, if you can, love what’s true. But the first step is knowing what’s true—all of it. Even the parts that make you uncomfortable. It is perhaps the most potent “active ingredient” in mindfulness.
Sometimes you’ll hear this experience described as “acceptance,” as in discussions of certain aspects of Buddhist meditation practice. We don’t prefer that word, because it carries an unintended connotation of helplessness—as in “Just accept that this is true…and therefore abandon any hope that you can change it.” So instead we use the term “observational distance.”“Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” Emily and Amelia Nagoski. p. 204
With the “…and therefore,” they point out how easily you can slip from acceptance-as-knowledge to acceptance-as-resignation — though of course to improve any bad situation requires facing it.
“Know what’s true” really resonates with me. I have a little more trouble with the line, “And, if you can, love what’s true.” I know certain stoic schools of thought really push the idea that you should try to love even the awful things about life, because of what they can teach you and help you grow in, but I think I would rather call awful things awful and try to change them.
So ultimately, going on in this passage are several different ways of relating to reality:
- What is true.
- What you think is true.
- What you think could be true sometime in the future.
- What you want to be true.
“Acceptance,” meaning facing reality with accurate beliefs, means that what you think is true (#2) is actually true (#1).
“Acceptance” as resignation means that what you think could ever be true (#3) is only what you think is true now (#2 or #1). That’s “Give up hope of any change.”
And if your beliefs (#2) are swayed away from reality (#1) toward what you want to be true (#4) instead, that’s wishful thinking.
My personal goal is to have #1 = #2 (“Know what’s true”) and to have #3 = #4 (“Believe that change is possible”). But since I don’t want #2 to have to equal #3 or #4, I don’t want to commit to #1 equalling #4 either — in other words, I don’t want to have to “love what’s true.”
How about you? Do you have a way of understanding “Love what’s true” in a way that makes more sense to you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!