"Our entire life consists ultimately in accepting ourselves as we are." -- Jean Anouilh.
I've been mulling over this quote and the general notion of acceptance for a while now. It seems to me, absent certain reprehensible behaviors, that there is something very true here. There is also something very much counter to what is thought to be the case by society as a whole.
If we are taught anything about acceptance, it is generally directed at accepting other people's differences or foibles. In some cases, this is a very good thing because the opposite of acceptance is, frequently, judgment or even condemnation. When dealing with the opinions, actions or beliefs of others, we must just accept them for what they are and then either embrace them or walk away. We can never change them.
But when it comes to ourselves, we are generally taught just the opposite. From the time we are children, we are encouraged, taught, expected or threatened into an endless round of self-modification. This is done to make us fit into the expectations of a wider group, whether it be a family, a religion or a community. Some model of preferred behavior is held up as an ideal and we are instructed to try to attain it. Doomed from the get-go, we then, frequently, see only our failures and not ourselves. And we certainly never even consider accepting ourselves for what we are, both good and not so good. At best, this can leave us with a slight case of perpetual discomfort. At worst, true self-loathing can settle in, crippling any ability we might have for self-love.
Now, I don't for a minute think that absolutely everything is worthy of acceptance, but, as a retired master of the try-to-be-perfect guild, I think some healthy acceptance is sadly missing in many of us. And, in a funny kind of way, there is a bit of arrogance in thinking that we are capable of attaining the much vaunted perfection, never mind the silliness in setting it as a goal. In some ways, the always striving after whatever perfection we choose to aim at is a substitution for actually attaining it. It's as though wishing one had a particular virtue, and being seen to be striving after it, is the same as having that virtue.
We seem to put ourselves through this chronic lack of acceptance in every sphere of our lives. We see any failure to live up to an arbitrary standard as a personal failure. And frequently we equate these failures with moral failures. We aren't thin enough.......enough for whom? We don't earn enough......again enough for whom? We aren't smart enough, nice enough, something else enough. We tie ourselves up in knots to be enough, when in fact, most of us are good enough just as we are. We spend untold amounts of effort focusing on living up to some standard set by others and often never even consider what is acceptable for our own lives.
I know this has been true in my life, to the point that it took a concerted effort to even figure out what it might look like to have self-acceptance on any level. I used to beat myself up thoroughly over the past, over and over again, little realizing that there was absolutely no use in it. I even used to give myself a thorough mental thrashing over things that I thought that didn't live up to the elusive standards. And it was always a case of lather, rinse and repeat; there simply wasn't enough self-flogging to be done.
Fortunately, I've given a good deal of that stuff the boot. But I find myself wondering how much of my personal goal setting and life choices are still subconsciously being governed by the old lack of self-acceptance monster. I'm quite comfortable with the fact that I am not now nor ever will be perfect. I'm also thoroughly convinced that growth requires change and that change entails leaving behind previous convictions and behaviors without condemning the best effort of the past. I'm fairly confident that as I muddle along doing the best that I can, I will make some spectacular boo-boos, but I'm equally confident that they will not spring from a malicious spirit and I find that acceptable enough.
Teacher Voices: Stewart Matthews - Here's another post in my continuing series on teacher voices. I'm interviewing some of my former students who have gone on to become teachers. In this po...
5 days ago