Searching for a simple formula to offer our lives guidance often leaves us wondering aimlessly, unable to lean into true north. We live in a culture that tells us it is unnecessary to understand the complexity of our life experience. Receiving guidance from a concept like acceptance either works for us or it doesn't, as opposed to growing a discerning eye, informing us as to when it works and when it doesn't.
We often want to believe that life's ambiguity can be eliminated. The ego finds great solace in the belief that most of life's challenges can be figured out by lunchtime. Why feel badly about ourselves because we are either lost or plagued by confusion? We only need to reduce whatever we are facing to one simple solution. When the recipe doesn't work, why worry, just pretend that it does. Acceptance may be one of those remedies allegedly possessing magical powers.
The Beauty of Acceptance
An old meaning of the word acceptance is to take or receive willingly. The act of accepting possesses an element of open-heartedness. There is no protest, argument or conditions determining whether someone or something will be received. True acceptance suggests a high level of receptivity and openness to what or who come toward us. Without a doubt, to be the recipient of acceptance can be quite a gift.
Acceptance is also a significant gift we can give ourselves. Self-acceptance is one side of the personal growth paradox. We accept who we are while holding a vision of who we wish to become. Without acceptance, there is no foundation upon which to build an evolving character.
The Danger of Acceptance
As the old definition suggests, acceptance is about receiving willingly. Viewing acceptance from the perspective of a relationship, then acceptance or receiving willingly constitutes only one ingredient in the rapport-building process. The other necessary feature of relatedness is giving willingly. We can give our perceptions, our desires and our beliefs. In fact, it may be impossible to fully participate in a relationship unless we give voice to what matters to us. Could it be that a thriving relationship depends upon both, receiving willingly and giving willingly?
Of course, to declare what we want and perceive run the risk of generating tension, that typically happens when two people see things differently. Most of us were not offered the kind of instruction that would allow for carrying tension in a relationship without unnecessarily sacrificing someone's participation. Could it be that at times, acceptance is not so much a gift, but a way to manage possible tension?
When acceptance is a strategy for managing tension, the person offering acceptance runs the risk of indulging in repetitive acts of compliance. A track record of compliance easily morphs into feelings of resentment as we time and time again deny our own needs or perceptions. The irony is that as we become highly compliant and resentful, it is easy to slip into expecting to be seen as extremely giving.
Sacrificing Effective Leadership
In a committed relationship, someone is offering emotional leadership to the relationship. The leader offers direction regarding how emotions will be communicated, supported and how they will impact choices made in the relationship. In his seminal work, Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch points out that in a committed relationship the person possessing the lowest amount of emotional intelligence will likely be the emotional leader. The person with greater emotional skill accepts the leadership of the person with less competency in order to manage tension. There is less tension when operating at the diminished skill level since no one is being called to what is new and unfamiliar. Hence, effective leadership is sacrificed due to acceptance.
Collusion is a non-verbal agreement to accept how another person presently copes and strategizes to get his or her needs met. When the strategy has an injurious impact upon either person holding the agreement and/or their relationship, the collusion or acceptance can be significantly harmful. Effectively interrupting collusion calls for a courage to hold the tension created when the agreement is broken. The key is to get honest about the damage being generated due to the agreement without diminishing the person perpetrating the hurt.
Acceptance remains a beautiful offering when it is truly a gift of the heart and not a tactic for managing tension. Acceptance becomes dangerous when it is simply a way to handle tension, which easily generates resentment, ineffective leadership and collusion.