REAL Values: ACCEPT
It's time to embrace radical acceptance!
Monday Master Class
This post is the third of four, discussing what it means to truly ACCEPT. If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to read the first two posts in this series, covering the topics of RESPECT and ENGAGE. A later post covers the remaining REAL Value: LEAD.
A little background:
As a Relaxed Leader, I wanted a broadly applicable way to effectively approach every situation and better assess any potential solution. So I created a simple set of REAL values to measure our choices and actions against. REAL stands for Respect, Engage, Accept, and Lead. It’s a framework that’s easy to learn and implement in our daily lives, but the impact can be absolutely profound.
However… before I dive in, here is a brief explanation for those of you in a hurry.
ACCEPT is a word that’s easy to say but hard to live. Relaxed Leaders strive to accept people as they are. We believe all humans should learn to accept each other because of our differences, not in spite of them. We believe we’re all unique and have value simply by being human, so the least we can do is accept one another.
There are common dictionary definitions of “accept” that we aren’t talking about, such as “to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable,” such as a widely accepted idea; nor are we talking about “recognizing as true” or “to believe.” The acceptance a Relaxed Leader considers as one of the REAL values is different. In fact, the type of acceptance we’re talking about is offered to a person even if we regard their words or actions as improper and believe their positions or statements to be untrue.
But the dictionary also defines “accept” in ways that are applicable to our REAL Values. First, it can mean “to receive willingly” or “to give admittance or approval to.” It also means “to agree to undertake (a responsibility)” and “to be able or designed to take or hold (something applied or added).” Finally, it can mean “to endure without protest or reaction.”
In order to effectively explore how a Relaxed Leader defines and understands the call to ACCEPT, it helps to look at each of these dictionary definitions in a bit more detail. The value may seem clear on the surface but it has a rich meaning and will challenge us at many levels.
Before I really dive in, let me address a question that comes up almost every time I discuss this concept of acceptance with anyone:
“How am I supposed to accept someone I despise?”
As you can imagine, there are many versions of that question but the sentiment is the same. If there is someone I find abhorrent, mean, evil, spiteful, hateful, hurtful, narcissistic, [add your negative word here], then how do you expect me to “accept” them? And why the hell would I want to?!
Like so many things in life, we have to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. The “acceptance” in the mind of the person asking this question is a conditional acceptance and involves passing judgment on the other person. In this case, the willingness to accept the other person is conditioned on whether or not you’ve judged them to be worthy of your acceptance because you’ve defined a type of acceptance that includes “regarding as proper” and/or “recognized as true.” In other words, accepting the other person carries with it your stamp of approval on their words and actions.
TO BE CLEAR, I’m not talking about that type of acceptance. The REAL Value I’m talking about does not carry with it even an implied agreement with the person’s beliefs, words, or actions.
A Relaxed Leader should certainly assess the beliefs, words, and actions of others and determine whether or not they agree with and approve of those things, but it’s an activity separate from the foundational value to ACCEPT others.
To receive willingly:
One of the dictionary definitions to consider is “to receive willingly.” We usually think of this within the context of being given something intended as a gift, which is why I believe this is critical to our understanding of the concept. If you view all life –especially human life – as precious, then every person is a gift to the rest of creation. (I’ll refrain from the “gag gift” and “white elephant” remarks but we could definitely extend the “gift” analogy in several creative directions!)
If you hold religious beliefs that value all life, then this should probably fit fairly comfortably within your worldview. You might not like it (or prefer not to think about it) but the type of acceptance I’m talking about is fully supported by Christian beliefs. You certainly can’t “love your enemy” or “love your neighbor as yourself” if you can’t find it in your heart to extend this basic level of acceptance.
If you’re not religious – or follow some other religious tradition – I would still argue that the lives of others are gifts and should be “received willingly” by you.
First, I believe we have something we can learn from everyone. You’ll note this is different than saying “everyone has something to teach us.” Teaching implies the desire to impart knowledge or understanding and, let’s face it, the type of person a Relaxed Leader will struggle to accept is unlikely to be someone who wants to help us learn and grow. (I’ve had plenty of those types of people who would’ve loved to “teach me a lesson” over the years, but that’s different.)
Second, we can’t know everything about the person we struggle to accept. Perhaps they’re kind to the people they love or have managed to offer opportunities for others. Even if they’re mean to everyone, we don’t know how they’ve impacted the lives of others – for good and for bad – and how that interaction has rippled out. Maybe this hateful, hurtful person became the impetus needed to get millions of people off their COVID couches and out to the polls on election day! Breaking through voters apathy can be a tremendous gift to society! So we need to be careful when we feel the urge to withhold this basic level of acceptance from even the most outwardly vile human beings.
To give admittance:
Another dictionary definition defines “accept” as meaning “to give admittance or approval to.” As I’ve said, the type of acceptance I’m advocating does not imply “approval” but the idea of “admittance” adds a lot to our understanding. The opposite of admittance are concepts like exclusion, denial, and prohibition. Since a Relaxed Leader, by my definition, is trying to make progress towards a better world for everyone without dying from stress in the process, it follows that no one is excluded. “Everyone” means every single person – even those we struggle to accept – and not just those with whom we agree.
The challenge we have is to figure out how to grant them admittance into the better future we’re trying to build. Even if they claim to not want any part of it, the fact is that they are going to be part of it… unless they leave this world before we bring about that future. (And to be clear: If you think that simply doing away with your “enemies” is an acceptable strategy, then you’re not a Relaxed Leader.)
To agree to undertake:
The word “accept” can also mean “to agree to undertake (a responsibility).” If you really do want to be a Relaxed Leader, then this aspect of acceptance is critical. When we accept another person as they are, it’s only the beginning. Acceptance is not a one-and-done action because we’ve also committed to engage with the person. As we engage with others, at whatever level, we will need to continue to actively accept them. We will learn more about them and hopefully we will grow and change, so acceptance becomes an ongoing, active choice. It’s an important responsibility and not one we can take lightly.
To be able to take or hold:
Another less common definition of accept is “to be able or designed to take or hold (something applied or added).” One example might be the vending machines that are designed to accept coins, bills, or credit cards. Another example is a surface designed to accept ink, meaning it will hold it and not allow it to be easily rubbed off or washed away.
When we apply this definition to our understanding of accepting others – especially those with whom we disagree – it adds a very interesting dynamic because it implies clear intention. Think of my first example. I remember when vending machines only accepted coins. Hell, I remember vending machines that required exact change! It took intentional design changes to create vending machines that could scan and recognize bills, as opposed to the purely mechanical methods used to sort coins. And when credit cards were added, the vending machines had to add internet connectivity to determine if the credit card was valid and could be used for purchases. Again, acceptance wasn’t automatic and it required intentional and significant changes.
Like all analogies, this one certainly isn’t perfect and it breaks down eventually, so I’ll stop before we commit analogy abuse. However, I find it important to think about acceptance as something we may have to work on. In order to accept certain people, we may have to make some intentional design changes to our way of thinking!
To endure without protest or reaction:
I’ve saved the trickiest for last. The final dictionary definition of “accept” that I’d like you to think about is “to endure without protest or reaction.” But let’s consider it within the context of everything else I’ve explained, including the two other values discussed in prior posts: Respect and Engage.
In my mind, this is not about letting someone walk all over me because I “accept” them as they are. I will strive to accept someone, even though they are an unequivocal D-Bag; but my acceptance of them doesn’t come with a license for them to treat me poorly. Part of respecting myself is not allowing mistreatment to go unanswered. However, the acceptance I give should endure any poor treatment and I shouldn’t do anything to even imply that I’m accepting the other person contingent upon their good behavior.
Put another way, when we accept someone, we are agreeing to endure their insults and bad behavior when it comes to that offer of acceptance. Period. However, we are not agreeing that we won’t respectfully engage with them to constructively address things they say or do.
The bottom line:
Relaxed Leaders strive to accept others as they are, but it’s an ongoing and active acceptance. In order to create a better future for everyone, we need to grant everyone admittance. It’s a responsibility we willingly receive and we understand it might not be easy. In order to accept certain people, we will need to intentionally address some of our emotions and ways of thinking. And though we shouldn’t let anyone treat us poorly without a respectful, constructive response, we understand that we should strive to maintain at least a basic level of acceptance without conditions.
Oh… there’s one more thing you should accept: Being a Relaxed Leader isn’t always easy – but it’s worth it if you truly want to build a better future for all!