Last week, my supervisor made a comment that stuck with me: “The way to peace is either acceptance or change.”
This wasn’t intended to be some wise yogi lesson–it was a side comment related to student programming tactics–but I was shook. Its profundity lies in its obviousness: Yeah, acceptance and change are the only ways we ultimately find resolution.
The other reason this comment resonated with me is because of an interesting pedagogical shift my brain has taken in the past month or so. At the ripe age of 26 (*rolls eyes*), I’ve been making a lot of attention to “older people” to whom I am now closer in age than children or teenagers. I’ve even been paying attention to elderly populations I might have otherwise overlooked given my age-based discrimination and stereotyping. In the best way possible, these people seem to not give a fuck… in the best way possible. Let me explain.
Like many millennials, I strive on a daily basis to be the best version of myself. Implicit in the idea of “best version” is the belief that we are inherently flawed, and in order to be the “best,” we need to change ourselves significantly: better health, less social media, less Netflix, more travel, less coffee, more journaling, more yoga, more followers, less debt, etc. And while some of those self-evolutions are positive, it seems clear to me that more often than not, we pick the pathway to peace that involves immense change.
I should offer the disclaimer here that change is one of my favorite things; I just finished teaching a whole semester about it. Change is not inherently good or bad. But we do spend some time in that course discussing how we asses whether change is necessary and positive or if it’s unwarranted and toxic. If our choice to change reflects a realignment of our values, the change will probably be a healthy one. If our choice to change satisfies the ego more than it satisfies the soul, perhaps it’s time to choose another route to peace–one that will be more sustainable and honest.
That’s where acceptance comes in–the behavior I’ve noticed many mature adults practicing. For some people, acceptance could mean they’ve given up and no longer have the will to attempt a change. This kind of acceptance might not be the healthiest. But I’ve seen a lot of people practice acceptance that looks like ownership: they understand there are some integral components of their soul, personality, or being that actually make them better. There are tradeoffs. Why feel guilt for watching Netflix if Netflix is a stress reliever? Why feel guilt for eating a cupcake when cupcakes taste fucking amazing? Why feel guilt for having an outspoken personality when you feel the world needs a voice like yours? (or perhaps feeling guilt for being introverted when you feel the world needs more good listeners like you).
How can you tell if change or acceptance is a better route? It depends, of course. If you’ve attempted change multiple times and there never seems to be any results, maybe it’s time for acceptance. (Again, context matters; this advice would be better suited for your addiction to Chipotle rather than your addiction drugs or alcohol.) If you decide to accept a part of your life–your concrete need to social media stalk a date before meeting, your need to plan vacation details months in advance, your desire to overdo presents around the holidays–and it ends up feeling more soothing to your soul to own the behavior than to suppress it, perhaps acceptance was the right choice–as long as your acceptance is not a disguise for resisting a change you really *should* make. Your intuition will know the difference.