“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Consider this conversation: “There are so many bad things that happen in this world. What can I do to change any of it? What difference can I or anyone make? I feel frustrated by how helpless and powerless I am to change my world, those around me, and myself.” I’ve heard this conversation countless times, as I’m sure you have not only heard, but probably have said these words yourself. The news bombards us with stories of natural disasters, shootings of innocent people, riots of rage and pain, and all the unfairness of the world. Is there really anything we can do to change it, make it better?
Many people blame God for the way the world is. Why would he let the world be this corrupt? Others blame people. Why are people so selfish and awful? I doubt many people look inward and say, “I am what’s wrong in the world,” but someone else is surely blaming you for something. And sometimes it’s not the faults of this big world that concern us, but rather we feel powerless to help those we care about. We see our loved ones make mistake after mistake, and sometimes try everything we can to fix them, but often fail.
This negative view of the world is not one that I have, though I once did. I thought I couldn’t make a difference in the world or in anyone’s life, and I felt helpless. My views have changed drastically, but I don’t think that the world and people are all sunshine and goodness. What I believe now is that there is goodness and badness in the world, and there are things we cannot change and things we can. But the most important thing is to learn acceptance in order to have peace of mind. That’s why I love Meryl Runion’s adaptation of the Serenity Prayer, “May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Acceptance is not an easy thing to reach. Sometimes, you must grieve before you accept, by going through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression first. Most of the time, you have to have the desire to accept what is before you can start the process to reaching acceptance. What I find really interesting is that admitting powerless is the first step in most addiction and self-help programs. It takes so much to reach acceptance, but it is the first step to actually make change and progress.
The article, “What You Can Change and What You Cannot” explains that everyone has a locus of control. There are internalizers, who believe, “I am responsible.” There are externalizers, who believe, “It is someone else's fault.” Then there are those who believe in chance or fate and think, “It’s just luck.” In reality, “most outcomes actually result from a combination of internal and external causes, and perhaps some chance.” It is not good to completely fall into either category, but it is good to recognize what you tend to lean toward, so that you can learn to find a balance of blame and responsibility, as well as knowing when some things are just chance.
Now that you are more aware of your locus of control, it’s time to be aware of what you can change and what you cannot.
“The past, your history, the laws of physics, the weather, human nature (yours or others), personality traits (yours or others), another person's beliefs or thoughts (unless they choose to change), someone who doesn't want to change, who you are related to, human needs, sexual preference, your talent, and things you do not acknowledge.”
“You can change what you want, but you cannot change what you need.”
“You cannot change another person, but you can change how you treat them, how you react to them, your opinions and judgments of them, and your relationship with them.”
“You cannot change the past, but you can reappraise, apologize, forgive, let go, take responsibility for yourself, learn, purge introjected regulations, change the present and the future, and move forward.”
You Can Change: (The article provides a lengthy list, which you can click here to see, but this is the condensed version)
“What you do” – “Your behavior; how you respond to the behavior of others; how and who you spend your time with; the strengths you choose to acquire, develop, and apply; the promises you keep, and the people you betray; your habits; your choices; integrity, authenticity, congruence, reciprocity; where you live, work, play, and your career; the responsibility you take for yourself, and who you choose to blame.”
“What you communicate to others” – “What you say, how you say it, who you say it to, and when you say it; facial expressions, body language, gestures, posture; your attitude; who you include and who you exclude; who you respect and disrespect; what you tolerate and what you don’t; the trust you extend and the trust you earn.”
“What you know” – “Facts you have gathered; understanding; what you study, read, listen to, and learn; what you question and what you accept.”
“How you think” – “Your values and goals; what you believe; the assumptions you make, the questions you ask; who you trust; your priorities; your mood, attitude, and point of view; your compassion, empathy, and understanding of others; who you love and who you decide to hate; your level of emotional competency.”
“What you hope, dream, and aspire to” – “Your goals; your hopes and aspirations; your role models.”
Even with knowing what is out of our control and what is in it, it’s still very hard to accept the things that we cannot change. In Randi G. Fine's article, “Accepting What You Cannot Change,” he explains that a resistance to acceptance has almost everything to do with control. He says, “Control is always rooted in fear and attached to an outcome we believe is best for us.” As a Christian, I’ve been taught many times that we cannot know what is best for us, only God knows, so we should give him complete control over our lives. Even for those not religious, there is wisdom in this belief. Just because we think something is good for us or someone else, that doesn’t mean it is.
Fine goes on to say that we have two options when it comes to acceptance, “The first option is that we can accept the reality of what is. The second option is that we can be miserable with a reality we cannot accept.” With acceptance comes peace, and I don’t know about you, but I like to choose peace over misery as often as I can. But how do you even begin to reach acceptance for all the good and the bad the world, people, and ourselves have to offer?
Fine says, “Acceptance begins with realistic expectations about life itself; with the understanding that life is not always fair, not everyone will like or love us, no one is perfect, and everyone experiences adversity.” In the “5 Keys to Accepting What You Can’t Change,” the author gives this list to reaching acceptance: “1. Let go of the past, 2. Learn coping skills, 3. Make it meaningful, 4. Expect less, 5. Set new goals.”
The article, “How to Accept Things” lists fifteen steps, but I’ll only highlight a few I found most important:
- “See things for what they really are” – “It is what it is.” Face reality.
- “Work on minding things less” – Don’t give things too much personal importance.
- “Don’t confuse acceptance with a statement of preference” – “It’s not for me to decide these things.” Accepting something isn’t the same as believing the thing is bad or good. It means you stop believing you have a right or responsibility to change or control it.
- “See acceptance as something your do for yourself” – Realize that acceptance will bring you peace, and that you don’t have to get overly upset or angry by people and things out of your control.
- “Give radical empathy a chance” – “If I were in your shoes, I might well see things in exactly the same way as you do.” Try to understand what reality is like for someone else.
- “See flaws as the price for an overall package you can accept” – “Everything comes at a price.” There is good and bad in everyone and everything. Learn to see the bigger picture.
- “Practice simple contentment with the present moment” – “I have arrived, I am home.” Appreciate and be happy with what you have, where you are now, and how far you’ve come.
Helplessness and powerlessness can be very debilitating. Feeling that way is depressing and makes it harder to move forward. Often this feeling stems from being unable to change something in your own life that is out of your control, such as a parent’s separation, loss of a loved one, or watching someone self-destruct. But I believe that no one is powerless. You have the power to accept, change, and influence. You can take up a cause, volunteer, join an organization that you believe in, or start a group dedicated to changing the world in a big or small way. Many have succeeded in changing the world, and if you don’t believe that, just grab a history book too see how different life was a decade ago, a century ago, and farther back.
What will bring you the most empowerment is realizing that you can change yourself, but you cannot change others.You can help them when they want to change. “People change when they are ready, willing, and able to,” which is true for yourself and others. They are willing to change when they realize they have not reached their goals. They are able to change when they believe they can put in the work to reach their goals. They are ready to change when the change becomes their highest priority. Most of the time, a change within in yourself is all that is needed to start bettering the world and the people around you.
If you still feel powerless to make a change, then it is time to accept what is. “Acceptance comes with the realization that there is no true reality; that no two people share the same exact perceptions, that there are as many points of view as there are people. It is the realization that our point of view is not the only one that is right, logical or fair,” says Fine. This doesn’t mean you have to disregard all of your beliefs, morals, and ideas. It doesn’t mean that you stop believing that something is wrong, right, or neutral. You are just relinquishing control over something you have no control over. Fine adds, “Acceptance involves the taming of our egos and the embracing of humility. It comes with believing we are worthy of everything, but not entitled to anything other than our opinion.”
p.s. Lauren Martin has a short list of things we should accept and change in our lives, and I really appreciated these:
“Accept your imperfections, change your idea of beauty. Accept your family, change your friends. Accept your losses, change your earnings. Accept your situation, change your outlook. Accept your fate, change your journey. Accept where you are now, change where you’re going. Accept the choices you’ve made, change your next ones. Accept those who hurt you, change who you surround yourself with. Accept your body, change your health. Accept the things you can’t change, change the things you can’t accept.”