Acceptance Does Not Mean Acquiescence

There’s a thing about the Zen mentality that makes it a bit tough to embrace for a thug-for-life revolutionary:

Being Zen seems to imply being “o.k.” with things that are, inherently, shitty.  A lost job, a bad diagnosis, a broken relationship…while feel-good happiness blogs will tell you that “accepting” these things will make them easier for you, will help you “come to peace” with them, will let you get on with your life, it can feel like they’re telling you to push the truth under the carpet.

And the truth is, these things do suck. If you have any get-up-and-go at all, you’re inclined to be pissed off about them.

Which is only reasonable.  No one in their right mind would say, “I’ve got cancer!  That’s awesome!  I’m looking forward to this!”  Yet amazing people every day manage to get through the shittiest of shit like that with a gracious spirit and a joyful attitude that puts the rest of our daily gripes to absolute shame.

Does that mean these are people weak, because they’ve accepted the fact that sometimes life sucks, hard?  Or does that mean they’re actually strong as hell, because it’s only the strong as hell that can take the things that would cripple most people and continue to focus on being as happy as they can in the moment?


My Tat, Almost a Beatles Song, and a Standard Happiness Trope

shoulder tattooI’ve been toying with the idea of a new tattoo for a while now, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted.  (We don’t have it in the budget anymore, but it was earmarked for my birthday gift before our own shit hit the fan.)  I started a board on Pinterest to gather some ideas, and they were nearing the mark, but they weren’t quite there.

I wanted something that wouldn’t be super-obvious to everyone who saw it.  Something classy, but also a little rockabilly.  And since I wanted it to be on my shoulder—my first visible “that’s right, I’m a tattoo person” tattoo after getting 4 others in easily hideable places—I wanted it to have a freakload of personal meaning.

I just didn’t know what that meaning was until recently.

If you’re an editing nerd like myself (and I know some of you out there are), then you’ll know what the word means.  “Stet” is a mark used by proofreaders and editors to signify that a change they’d previously marked (crossing out a word, adding punctuation, etc.) should be disregarded.  In Latin, it means “let it stand.”  To me, in this tattoo, it means “things are as they should be.”  There is a reason life unfolds the way it does.

Regardless of the changes I want to make—regardless even of the changes I’m trying desperately hard to make—things are as they are for a reason.  I can fight them—I can hate them, even—but I accept that the life I’m living right now is the only life I have, and that there is no sense in not trying to find as much happiness and freedom (i.e., the bluebird) as I possibly can in the midst of current circumstances.

Because “acceptance” does not have to equal “liking the way things are.”  In fact, it usually doesn’t.  If you find yourself needing to accept something, chances are it’s not something all that great.  (“Oh fine, I guess I’ll accept this $100 bill I found lying on the ground…”)

You can hate the everloving shit out of something and still accept it.  That’s not a contradiction.  It’s when you acquiesce to something you don’t like that you’re in trouble.


Accepting vs. Acquiescing (Hint: One Is For Zen; One Is For Punkasses)

Of the many definitions of acceptance (and yes, some are “to acknowledge something as favorable”), the one the happiness gurus are talking about is “a disposition to tolerate or accept people or situations.”

Note the word “tolerate.”  Not “love.”  Not “trick yourself into thinking it’s awesome when secretly you hate it.”  Just “tolerate.”

Tolerating implies that whatever it is you’re accepting is something you’re not thrilled about, but you’re taking the higher road.  For whatever reason—harmony in your relationships, your own peace of mind, the ability to get through the day—you’re learning to live with something that is less than ideal.  You’re learning to be happy in spite of the fact that it’s there, rather than boo-hooing your crappy luck and fixating on how unfair things are.

That’s not to say you can’t be trying to fix it in the meantime; you should be.  You just learn to not let it bring you down while you’re doing so.

Acquiescence, in contrast, means “passive assent or agreement without protest.”

I hope I don’t need to elaborate on why this is not a philosophy CCIQ would ever in a million years endorse.

Protest your little fucking hearts out, readers dear.  But don’t let it make you miserable.  Don’t give it that power.


In Practice…

The application of this dichotomy in my own life would read as follows:

I accept the fact that there’s been a bend in my road.

I accept the financial uncertainty this throws us into, the delay it  puts on my Quits dream, the fact that I will be tired and overextended and (yes, I’ll be real) disgruntled with certain things for a while longer now.

Because by doing that, by saying “stet” quietly over and over to myself as I work my way through the days, I find the patience and determination I need to keep on keepin’ on.  I find myself able to still smile at sunsets and laugh at the jokes on the sitcoms I watch with my husband.

It keeps me on the positive side of the line I’m walking.  Because who wants to walk the negative side?  Seriously—it’s your choice.  Why would you choose miserable?

But, will I acquiesce to this bend?  Will I let it convince me that my dreams are pipe dreams, persuade me to go back to The Way Things Are, grind me down into the sad, defeated little puddle I could become if I accepted it without protest?

Hell to the no.

That’s not what revolutionaries do.


Your Turn

What things in your life do you need to say “stet” to?  How can you accept without acquiescing?  Work it out with me in the comments, babies!

Image: Nickolai Kashirin / Flickr

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  • Reg

    Wherever you go, there you are! Attitude is the ONLY thing we seem to have control over. Currently, I am tolerating living in a state with little sun and very few happy people. My goal? To be the sunshine! 🙂

    • Omar

      I love this 🙂

  • I think acceptance does not mean complacence. Right now things are rough for a lot of people, present company included, but fighting against things we can’t change simply adds to stress and the exhaustion. Focus on what you CAN do. Accept that there will be bumps and bruises, but don’t use them as an excuse. In other words–from one editor to another–stet the hell out of things 😉

    • Will do, Abby! I couldn’t agree more: “fighting against things we can’t change simply adds to stress and the exhaustion. Focus on what you CAN do.” 🙂

  • For me acceptance is acknowledgement of the truth without judgement.

    Usually when something bad happens I have placed an awful lot of judgement on the situation the moment I consider it to be “bad”. Acceptance happens in that moment that I stop being so concerned with my feelings about the situation and simply see it for what it is.

    Once I accept a situation, or person, I can make a decision that is not based out of fear or anger. Without acceptance, any decision I make is usually a knee-jerk reaction to the emotion I’m feeling.

    Keep kickin’ ass, girl!


    • “acknowledgement of the truth without judgement”

      Beautiful! That may be the prettiest definition of it I’ve ever heard.

  • Omar

    First of all, I love your tattoo 🙂 I didn’t know you had more, but I guess “easily hideable places” means we cant see pictures? 🙂

    I’ve been reading your latests posts and I went from “Yeeey she is going to quit!” to “… that’s crappy”, and I love your attitude towards it.

    “It keeps me on the positive side of the line I’m walking. Because who wants to walk the negative side? Seriously—it’s your choice. Why would you choose miserable?” that’s why you are one of my heroes 🙂

    … oh and I’m curious, is one of your tattoos a panda? that would be awesome 😀

    • Why thank you! You can certainly see pictures of the others…nothing terribly scandalous, and yes, one of them IS a panda. 😀 Keep an eye on my FB/Twitter feed today and tomorrow and I just may post a shot…

      When it comes to heroism, I know many people are inspired by this, and that’s exactly why I’m writing about it, but the truth of the matter is that when you come down to it, it really is as simple as “do I want to be happy?” or “do I want to be miserable?” I certainly don’t LIKE these circumstances, and there are plenty of times when my shell cracks and I go into a mini tailspin of woe-is-me frustration. But, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward as best I can. Because, simply put, the alternative would suck, big time.

      I just want more people to be aware of the fact that this is totally a choice. No one’s going to like it when shit hits the fan, and of course you’re going to want to rail against it…but when it comes to being as happy as possible, day by day, why would you choose to give yourself any other existence?

  • Every day I try to convince my unemployed clients that there is hope. By the time many come through our program, they have already acquiesced to their circumstances. It isn’t easy to convince them otherwise but Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford will help us spur a discussion. He talks about connecting the dots, only being able to do so in hindsight, and trusting that life has taken you this direction for a reason.
    Your post has hit such a great point. Most people acquiesce in trying times, or worse they play victim. It takes work to turn that thinking around and I love that your tattoo is a reminder that things are as they should be.

    • I really feel for your clients. I hit a point after college when I was convinced it was too late, I’d gotten myself mired down too deep, and there was no way to change direction. But anything is possible. Every time I read a story of someone who’s dealing with much tougher circumstances than I am, with grace and optimism, I’m humbled and re-inspired. It’s all about attitude and openness.

      I am sending positive vibes your way that you can help open some minds to the possibility of trying again. 🙂

  • Cordelia’s Mom

    Great post. But in my case, I wouldn’t say that I have ever actually “accepted” the bad or rough spots in my life and certainly have never “acquiesced” to them. I would say that over the years when I’ve hit a large rock in the road, I’ve either gone around it, gone over it, or dealt with it by pushing it out of the way or eliminating it. Sometimes I have to ask other people to help me move the darn thing. My theory (at least once I grew up) has been that I don’t have to accept stumbling blocks, but I don’t have to be miserable about it – I just have to deal with them somehow until I can get to the place I want to be. Sometimes that takes a really, really long time, but so far I don’t think I’ve ever actually had one of those rocks stop me completely, or at least not for very long. (Knock on wood.)

    • I can’t tell you what a huge help you’ve been through all this. As someone who’s been through rough spots and made it through, you know exactly what to say to put things in perspective for me.

      Nothing is the end of the world, and I think you got a lot of Grandma’s survivor attitude–deal with the stumbling blocks, move on, and keep going. I come from a family of really tough women, and I’m thankful for that every day. 🙂

  • This must be my “message of the day”!

    The post I just read before this one is from Dave Kaiser: “The Problem is NOT the Problem…”
    ~ he says the same thing in a different context.

    • What doesn’t Johnny Depp know? 🙂 So true, though.

      • I don’t even care what he doesn’t know (drools) 🙂

  • ஆலங்கட்டி மழை

    You finally get Zen.

    • If only! I might “get” it intellectually, but putting it into practice in my daily life? Oh, that’s a whole ‘nother story…

      • ஆலங்கட்டி மழை

        You don’t get Zen 🙁