Acceptance is not embracing “reality”, it’s embracing “your reality.”
In her April 26, blog post, psychologist Robin Chancer writes great advice about coping emotionally with Trump. But she oversimplifies a bit. She probably does this on purpose, but to me it creates two serious mistakes.
The sin of optimism
She wrote that optimism in bad times is bad, because we’ll be frequently, and seriously disappointed by all the bad stuff that’s happening.
What she didn’t say was that optimism is often a veneer over denial and resignation.
These are ways of avoiding not just the truths that seem to hurt, but many others as well. Some of these are important truths needed for effectively dealing with the problem. Some of these are vital higher truths.
The main “higher truth” is that, as humans, we err. All of our thinking is approximate. By denying what seems bad, we’re denying a truth we don’t like. So we’re both pretending it’s really true, and then hiding it away so we can’t see that it’s actually just our opinion, our interpretation.
Then our denial makes us latch onto a positive truth, for hope. For many, this means getting out of politics. Of course, this is the worst thing we can do- politics needs our voices and certainly our votes in the next primary and general elections.
For others, this means joining the political fight. That’s good, but we’ve then committed to the truth being that we need to fight. Don’t get me wrong- fighting is good. But it’s politics-as-usual. Yes, it’ll probably be a great boon in the next election, but it’s still the same politics-as-usual that got us into the fight.
What’s being covered up is that these positive and negative are what’s possible. Actually, much, much more is possible.
No one need suffer
Robin talks about “radical acceptance.
“How can I just accept these things? They are not okay!” Remember that acceptance is not condoning. To accept is not to say,“This is okay.” It is to say, “This is what is.”
The problem with this definition of “radical acceptance” is that again, people are fooled into thinking they’re accepting what exists. At best, they’re accepting the part of it they can see. Actually, they’re accepting the way they think things are.
This is reflected in an a passage where she quotes Marsha Linehan:
“The path out of hell is through misery.”
While dramatic, this is inaccurate. There is a big difference between pain and misery. It’s often very difficult to see the difference because we get wrapped up in the drama. Misery is a form of suffering. And suffering has been said to be “the human condition.” Yet Buddhism teaches that suffering is due to the ego, the attachment to the meanings that occur to us.
Really, the path out of hell is through pain. When you find yourself suffering, let it go.
Even better, mostly what people call “hell” isn’t real hell. Americans had real consequences when the Trump executive orders about immigration stopped many people from coming back into the country. There were real delays and real expenses. There was even physical pain from not being able to get to medications or return and take care of loved ones in pain.
But suffering was optional. Yes, upsets and misery are normal, but they’re truly optional.
Accept YOUR reality, not THE reality
Here is my correction:
To accept is not to say,“This is okay.” It is to say, “This is my reality.”
First, this is simply more accurate. Trump’s weird tweets continue. If your reality is that they’re abhorrent, then that’s your reality. It’s not mine. To me, we shouldn’t get upset that a mentally ill president is posting weird tweets. We should expect them and laugh. If you want to pretend to be angry to impress people, that’s your choice. If you want to suffer, that’s your choice, too. I don’t.
And I DO have emotional reactions to them. But I accept them as my emotional reactions. They’re part of an emotional reality my brain creates. By accepting that, I get to have a choice of whether to suffer or not. I usually return very quickly to a mentally ill president posting weird tweets.
Acceptance opens up new possibilities
The higher truth is that we are humans with limited ability to understand. Throughout the eons, a few of us have created new possibilities that have allowed humanity to make great strides. What’s possible is always much greater than what we know.
By accepting, “This is my reality,” we are left open to other possibilities outside of our reality.
Robin wrote: “It simply means coming to terms with what is, and with what we cannot control.” Again, that’s wrong.
Better is: “It simply means coming to terms with what seems to exist, and with what we think we cannot control.”
For instance, about politics, we can exert much more control than we know: http://peoplecount.org/how.htm. There are lots of political groups with millions of people. If a fraction of those gave a few dollars to PeopleCount, we could begin to control politics in a mere 4-8 months.
You’re welcome to feel optimistic. But don’t let that stop you from signing up, donating, and getting your friends to do the same.
PeopleCount’s main challenges are two. First, I’m working on it part-time and largely alone. At times I have a person or two tries to help for a few hours per week. What I need is to be able to work on it full-time (that means funding) plus hire a couple of full-time people (more funding).
Second, people are resigned. Some of them turn to optimism as well. Almost everyone believes their own thoughts- “politics is broken”, “politics can’t be fixed,” “all we can do is fight harder.” This prevents most people from even being able to see what PeopleCount offers…
Acceptance: This is how it really seems to me- the reality I should not deny.
Clearly, almost all of America sees no way out of this political fiasco until after the 2018 election, and no way out of Trump’s reign till 2020. We should accept that. At the same time, there are viable solutions for making huge changes much sooner.
Don’t make a healing act of acceptance make you think you see the real truth. Accept that much more is possible than you know. Even wondrous things.