Acceptance & Exploration cover image

Acceptance & Exploration

Years ago, at the request of a mutual friend and the consent of all parties involved, I found myself arguing the importance of accepting a person's stated identity. I needed this mother to accept her son as her daughter. In a quarrel I probably should have been smart enough to avoid, I dug deep into my arsenal of logical and emotional persuasion methods.

I took the positive route, attempting to convince the mother that accepting her child as her daughter would result in a healthier and more prosperous child. Failed.

I tried the negative route, sharing data that children without parentally affirmed identities experience overwhelming depression, substance use, and likely suicide. Crash and burn.

In desperation (and ever so eloquently), I screamed, "Look bitch, if you don't get your shit together, your child will end up dead or homeless and dependent on survival sex." That didn't go so well either, even though it was the most likely outcome.

She replied with duly deserved snark, "If somebody tells me they're a cat, I should put out a saucer of milk for them?" That's the moment I realized we were engaged in two different conversations.

I was arguing for the life of this woman's daughter, having approached the dialogue with a tacit understanding that we both wanted her child to be happy, healthy, and prosperous. The mother either believed her ideological adherence was more important than her child's physical and mental health, or that forced ideological compliance would lead to happiness. Either way, I realized we did not have an aligned goal and excused myself from the fruitless dialogue.

The mother celebrated my retreat as an ideological victory. I mourned for her daughter and the torture she would be forced to endure for several more years. I also mourned the tragic and preventable death of that beautiful child a few months later.

I'll occasionally replay the encounter to see what I missed and where I went wrong. My contemplation always ends with the same conclusions:

  • I provided the cliff notes on a book she didn't know existed and had no desire to read.
  • We were both operating under the sinister premise that we have the power to force change onto another person.
  • The mother couldn't separate the message from the messenger, suspecting an ulterior motive based on my history of LGBTQIA+ support.

What Does Acceptance Mean?

Despite dramatically different meanings, many people confuse acceptance with endorsement. Those who have not yet swallowed the red pill of vulnerability are generally incapable of differentiating the two. They achieve their version of acceptance through adherence to institutionally-endorsed social norms; good enough, strong enough, smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, etc. Either consciously or subconsciously, they maintain a foreclosed identity, seeking the approval of those who have bestowed their identities upon them.

Those who have been through hell know the difference between acceptance and endorsement, taking comfort in the simple verse, "to accept the things I cannot change." It's a beautiful summation and acknowledgment that there are (many) things in our life that are hard, potentially problematic, and entirely outside of our ability to modify. These survivors don't endorse these societal or personal hurdles. Instead, acceptance provides the incredible peace that comes with letting things exist outside our control or understanding.

Acceptance is a basic human dignity, acknowledging how things are, without judgement or condemnation.

How Acceptance Matters

The mother confused acceptance with endorsement. She considered actions acknowledging her child's status in their developmental journey as immoral. Yet, rejecting her child's status and path resulted in suicide and the destruction of the family left behind. Acceptance would have been received as a recognition of unconditional love, resulting in closer family bonds and a child alive and thriving. We meet people where they're at by accepting where they're at. Acceptance communicates love and builds up those around us.

I wish I still had contact with that mom as I'm finally ready to answer her question. "If somebody tells me they're a cat, should I put out a saucer of milk for them?" Sure, if that's what they're asking for. Why wouldn't I? Acknowledging this soul is on their own road does not mean I must also believe they're a cat. It's simply one more opportunity to fulfill my obligation of providing unconditional love. I get to ensure another creature, human or animal, doesn't go thirsty. I'm good with that.

What does it say that this soul sought you out to ask for something to drink? They've recognized you either as somebody with compassion or somebody they're dependent on. Either way, you will harm them far more significantly than a random passerby if you reject their request.

What would you hope to gain from rejecting their request? As you can't change another person, your rejection serves only the purposes of shaming and refusing a soul in need. Or perhaps you're just preventing yourself from acknowledging that any path aside from the one given you is valid. The denial of individuality says a lot more about you than your new feline friend.

Refusing to accept another person's status on the trail they've been given to climb is cruel, adding a boulder to the bag of a struggling climber. Denying acceptance is dehumanization.

Acceptance is seeing that climber on a different trail than your own and saying, "I see you. I'm here." Being seen by a person secure enough in their own path that they don't need to put roadblocks on yours is often all that's needed to survive the slope and continue towards the summit.

Acceptance Facilitates Healthy Development

Acceptance is also a critical skill in our personal development. If we cannot accept where we are, and how we are, we cannot proceed to where we're going. How would you know you'd arrived? Acceptance means being honest with ourselves; the most complicated person to be honest with.

The giants of identity psychology all learned that experimentation is an essential part of healthy human development. Skinner, Piaget, Maslow, Erikson all considered it essential to explore and examine to develop a solidified sense of self. The more time I spent researching their contributions to humanity, the more I wanted them to be wrong. There were still unexplored parts of my own identity I had spent years evading, parts I knew would not be accepted.

I wanted to know I could keep parts of myself locked away indefinitely and still lead a life rooted in wholeness. I found every opportunity to disagree with science. I would uncover obscure research attempting to discredit the necessity of exploration, only to have my hopes shattered by irrefutable data. As it turns out, the Borg had it right all along: Resistance Is Futile.

My rebellion didn't last long. I surrounded myself with people skilled in acceptance. I dove headfirst into the process of self-discovery by unraveling all those things about myself shame had kept locked away for decades. As I took intentional incremental steps into self-discovery, the external acceptance and validation gave me the safe harbor needed to understand each previously hidden element of my soul. After facing those parts of myself I had feared to explore, I wholeheartedly endorsed the truth: Exploration and experimentation are required to develop a solidified identity.

Things I feared about myself ended up being unnecessary stressors I could relinquish after being burdened by them for decades. I also realized my resistance to change wasn't dissimilar from the mother whom I previously battled. I wasn't ready to change. I wasn't ready to face things that had the potential to destroy my concept of who I was supposed to be.

Unraveling those things I kept hidden for decades resulted in a happier, healthier, and more complete individual. I accepted myself. I'm also proud to admit I haven't contemplated suicide since 2013. A miracle, considering I had spent every day for the 25 years before 2013 pondering all the ways the world and I would be better off if we broke up.

Testing & Developing Acceptance

Letting go of judgmental thoughts and behaviors is an arduous endeavor. You've been taught that people who don't fit your mold are problematic, weird, deviant, or otherwise unworthy. The only reason somebody would still believe that nonsense is if they haven't learned every human is inherently and infinitely valuable.

So how do you get from being somebody who considers others as less-than to somebody who can admire a soul all those around you despise? Pictures of Bob baby-stepping come to mind. It's an accurate formula for the path ahead of you. Opportunities to be annoyed by the actions of humans are plentiful, allowing testing to be conducted as frequently as desired.

Think about an action of another person that's currently bothering you. Start with something small.

  • Measure. How bothered are you on a scale from 1-10.
  • Consider The Action. Summarize the action into a single sentence. For example, "The food delivery person was late."
  • Consider the Situation. Was a late delivery always a possibility? Have things been late before? Why did I need to order food?
  • Consider The Person. Does the driver have a personal vendetta and intentionally deliver late? Why does somebody become a food delivery driver?
  • Consider Yourself. Identity the bother. For example, "I was hungry and had to wait." Or, "I paid extra for rush delivery."
  • Consider The Loss. Did the late delivery hurt you? What's gained by the bother you're experiencing?
  • Measure. Record your updated bother level on a scale from 1-10. Notice the change.
  • Repeat. Repeat this test as often as you can until you are consistently and dramatically less bothered by the actions of others.
  • Incorporate. As you practice this, you'll discover that just accepting things as they happen without judgment saves you time, energy and will increase your peace.


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