Over the past few years, I’ve heard many of my patients say, “It is what it is.” At first, only those over 30 would repeat this phrase, but more recently, younger adults have picked it up.
For most, it is not an expression of resignation and surrender. Rather, it is an acceptance of reality – the facts of the present, current circumstances or a phase of life.
“It is what it is.” reminds me of a much older quote, “I am what I am.”
It was first attributed to God – before He was labeled and gender-fied by us – in Exodus. It is a part of the collective unconscious of those who grew up in the 20th century with some thanks to Popeye (the sailor man) though comic artists would write it as “I yam what I yam.”
Although what Popeye meant is subject to philosophical debate. I recognize in it grounded self-acceptance and authenticity.
We can consume our attention and energy on things we cannot change – where we came from, bad luck, the past and personal characteristics that are beyond our control – age, ethnicity, body type and height. We can obsess with anger, bitterness and resentment, but this accomplishes nothing good.
A necessary step towards personal peace is acceptance of the things we cannot change.
The flip side of this is acceptance with appreciation – being thankful for the good that we have received and the positive aspects of the present moment. It comes with the recognition that we live in a changing world and we ourselves are changing. Some call it aging, others growth.
Acceptance of others – particularly those with whom we live and work – is a key to healthy relationships and personal happiness. In my children – in whom my wife and I have worked to instill the values we share, we must accept their unique personalities. Each of us has our unique challenges and strengths. Each of us is fallible and human.
Compassion allows us to accept and forgive others – and ourselves – for being imperfect and making mistakes. Appreciation allows us to recognize the good – and love enables us to see the beautiful – in one another.
The acceptance of the imperfection in our selves and our world is the starting point of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer that has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It points to the next step, the acceptance of our own responsibility to change for the better that which we can. Hidden in the reality of the present is your potential. Recognize this and be empowered.
You may not like your body type but you can improve your level of fitness. You may have high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, but you can make positive changes to take control of your health. You may hate your job, but it can be the steppingstone to more meaningful work. You may not be able to change the people in your life, but you can improve your relationships.
Reality might bite. The world is constantly changing, and so are we. Let’s empower ourselves to be agents of positive change.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre.