I’m a simple man with a mind like a steel sieve. Thoughts and ideas enter and leave my mind faster than the speed of light. So I look for memorable ways of connecting ideas. I found one while I was driving recently. The rest of the family were all asleep in the car and my mind turned to change management. Just at that moment, I glanced down and saw my AAA card. It reminded me of the AAA approach to change– Awareness, Acceptance and Action.
Awareness is step 1 in becoming a conscious change agent and it’s more than half the battle. It begins to answer the “Why?” question. Acceptance is the second step and in many ways acceptance rides on awareness’s wave. Pioneering Psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate. It oppresses.” These are challenging words. Acceptance sounds like the opposite of change. Its not. The opposite of change is resistance, the unwillingness to dance in reality as it is evolving. Resistance is itself the opposite of acceptance. So you can see that change and acceptance are two sides of the one coin. There are two ways to create change; one is active and the other is receptive, but neither is passive. Its like working with Change Tracker on a Word document. You can choose each time if you want to leave a suggested correction as is or change it. Both are choices and both are actions. You have your own inner Change Tracker (aka inner wisdom) to make the same discernment.
Here is my take on what Jung meant by this statement about acceptance.
At the point of becoming aware that something is not right, either within or outside of you, there is a strong human tendency to do the octopus dance. What I mean by that is that arms shoot in every direction looking for people to blame. It’s the easiest thing to do, but doesn’t lead to healthy change. “It’s the Republicans fault. It’s the Democrats fault. It’s Bush’s fault. It’s Obama’s fault. It’s my parents’ fault. It’s God’s fault. It’s Wall Street’s fault. It’s my genes’ fault. Etc”
Rumi wrote, “People of the world don’t look at themselves, and so they blame one another.” As long as we are looking around for someone to blame, we aren’t taking responsibility for our own lives. This can be dangerous.
A Buddhist story describes a man who has been shot with an arrow. In pain, and risking death, he refuses to have the arrow removed until he knows who shot the arrow, what material the arrow head is made from, what direction the arrow was shot and how deeply it is lodged. He refuses to have the arrow removed until he has all his answers. The tragedy is that he will die before he has what he is looking for. This seems to get to the heart of Jung’s statement about acceptance. You have to accept what is, without blame and judgment, before you can heal yourself or any system.
Please note- acceptance does NOT mean being passive or submissive. It’s the choice to approach a situation pro actively and peacefully rather than judgmentally, and without fear and loathing. The American cartoonist James Thurber said, “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” Anger is often a form of denial, masking the sense of disappointment that life hasn’t played out the way we hoped. Fear is a form of projection, imagining the worst of every change. Awareness is the antidote to both fear and anger. Awareness breeds acceptance of life exactly as it is, and acceptance breeds real life compassion and change.
This applies to many personal and social situations. Acceptance comes before change. If your marriage has ended or you have lost your job, you can spend your energy cursing the ground your ex walks on, or you can accept the situation as it is, and get on with creating an exciting and healthy future for yourself. In this case, acceptance is the beginning of self compassion. You don’t have to condone or endure other peoples’ abuse. Just accept that everyone is on their own journey, dealing with their own karma, and choose to move on with as little toxic resentment as possible.
Carl Rogers was another prominent psychologist who took the ideas of Jung to a new level of personal responsibility. He believed that his clients had within them all the answers to their own problems. The role of the therapist was to create space for the client to find their truth. The essence of personal problems for Rogers was the inability of people to accept themselves. Therefore they were unable to accept the world around them and unable to effect meaningful change. As he said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Acceptance is the second step in a healthy change process. You and this moment, with all of its crazy and confusing challenges, are a perfect match, engaged in a passionate love affair. You are the right person in the right place at the right time. Give thanks for who and where you are. It is PERFECT for NOW and becoming even perfecter every moment. You see, you can even make up words to describe the exhilarating process of becoming.
From a place of radical acceptance, you can respond, and participate in exciting change. With radical acceptance, you can effect radical change. Garrison Keillor has a nice way of saying this, “I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.” Once you face life as it is honestly, you can set about denying current reality the power to hold you captive.
Awareness and acceptance form the bridge to personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is the basis for action and sustainable change. This leads to the third A, the next in the series, and the culmination of all the personal reflection- ACTION. The bottom line is that it’s all about potential, both personal and global potential.
Author John Miller wrote,
There’s not a chance we’ll reach our full potential until we stop blaming each other and start practicing personal accountability.