A personal confession, which comes as no surprise to those who know me well: I’m no good at accepting things. Tough circumstances, rude people, the highway that’s become a parking lot during rush hour – I expend too much energy in fighting things I have no control over.
People are the hardest to accept. I was venting to a friend recently, complaining about a ‘problem person.’ In sympathizing with me, he said, simply: “Accepting people where they are is so hard, isn’t it?”
I didn’t know why, but that comment struck me. Like the flip of a switch,
I went from demonizing someone to imagining what might be going on in this person’s life. I had an inkling that things weren’t easy for them.
I imagined the bigger picture, and how negativity is a coping mechanism for deeper pain. I stopped complaining, and regretted my petty – and ego-based – irritations.
I believe there is a difference between accepting people where they are rather than as they are. Accepting others – and ourselves – as we are is absolute and unconditional. No expectations, no strings attached. We all know how hard this is to do. Throughout our lives, we work on accepting ourselves and our closest loved ones as they are. But to expect unconditional acceptance between strangers, acquaintances, peers, colleagues and co-workers? That’s one exceptionally tall order.
If we think of our journeys – where we are in life at this moment – it might be easier to meet someone (or ourselves) halfway. ‘Where’ suggests that we are on a path and that there is movement. Moving along, there is learning, experience, hope for growth and for change. ‘Where’ encourages me to be curious about my path and yours – where are you? where am I? How are we similar, and different? How have we come to this intersection together?
Most of our institutions and workplaces do not foster curiosity or encourage acceptance. But if we are to do good work together, or at least get decent results, let’s consider cultivating our capacity for acceptance.
What are some circumstances where acceptance helps us move through life easier? For example, every day we deal with:
- Resistance to change. Change requires readiness, as well as voice. When we’re not ready, when we feel decisions have been made for us, or if we feel control has been wrested from us, change is bad. It’s scary and we fight like hell. So let’s respect where we all are on the path to change. Change management is managing the balance between talking and listening, dialogue and interchange, and process of acceptance.
- Difficult colleagues. We all have baggage and histories that inform who we are and how we behave at work. As colleagues, we may not know each other’s life stories, but we can perceive past and present wounds and hardships inside a person that could use some gentle space. Some people can be truly toxic and we need to protect ourselves from them. Towards others, we can respond with acceptance and compassion. I find that when I can let go of who I wish a person to be, something inside me relaxes, causing them to relax, and then our relationship relaxes. Things get better between us.
- The mistakes of others. I tend to personalize other people’s mistakes – “they’re not listening to me, they don’t respect me” or “they obviously don’t care about what they’re doing.” All this could be true – or it might not. Sometimes we can help people prevent mistakes, much of the time we can’t. I’m in a better place to make a positive influence by changing my own behavior and reactions if I can accept that “Okay, this happened,” rather than take it personally and get upset about it.
- Our own failures and mistakes. The mother of all acceptance is here. When I am unkind, intolerant, frustrated, and impatient towards myself, I know I project the same unkindness, impatience, frustration and intolerance towards others. What a mirror.
How much more enjoyable work and life would be if we could say more often, “I accept where you are right now.” I accept where I am right now. Automatically, I feel lighter, calmer, there is more space for my head to clear.
The “problem person” of this story is still around, but I’m getting better at diffusing my triggers. When this person pushes my buttons, I’m going from saying “Aaaargh!” to thinking “Okay, this is where we are right now.” I’m accepting where they are, today. Makes my day a lot easier.