The Dangers of Tolerating or Accepting What You Can’t Change (and the Surprising Alternative)

Years ago, there was a major campaign in schools teaching children to tolerate the difference of others. It was an attempt to create a more comfortable and conducive environment for children of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds to coexist peacefully. I suppose some good came of it but still kids had difficulty being forced to put up with others whom they did not like, understand, or care to associate with. Even in the adult world we very often feel we must tolerate the behaviors, attitudes, and differences of others. We may have a boss who is demanding, a mother-in-law who meddles, a spouse who has annoying habits. While we would much prefer to change them or get away from them, we feel trapped in an unhappy relationship and for whatever reason must learn to simply put up with what we don’t like.
Some, as they evolve in life, become enlightened and discover a better way to coexist: acceptance. It is a acquiescence to that which we cannot alter. We even have a prayer (The Serenity Prayer) which advocates accepting that which we cannot change. We try to find peace with a situation or individual we are not happy with. We resign ourselves to not complaining but simply letting it be. “It is what it is” becomes the mantra for many.

While each of these approaches offers some relief to an unpleasant circumstance I have an issue with both. Tolerating has an element of suffering to it. We must put up with that which we are unhappy with. We feel trapped and powerless. The very definition of tolerating lends itself to feeling hopeless, resentful, bitter, and angry. While outwardly it appears to be a viable solution, it can have troublesome consequences.

Moving on to acceptance – the choice to endure without protest what we cannot change. Yet within acceptance lies the potential for sadness, resentment, self-pity, loss, and anger. Striving to attain inner peace under less than desirable conditions, we run the risk of repressed anger and bitterness.

What, then, is the solution? Imagine reaching a state of heightened enlightenment whereby you come to see everything and everyone who enters your life, regardless of the differences or challenges they present, as a gift, a blessing, a valuable part of your life’s journey? What if you could actually appreciate each difference rather than simply tolerate or accept them? The word appreciate means “to grasp the value and significance of, to be grateful for.” How would the quality of your life improve if you embraced this simply shift in perception and attitude?

In my own marriage (as in many) the differences between us that initially attracted me to him became the very source of irritation after we exchanged marriage vows. His spontaneity clashed with my scheduled life-style. Putting up with his unpredictable behaviors left me frustrated and annoyed. However, once I saw this as a quality to admire, as an opportunity for me to learn to be less rigid and more flexible, to learn to love and admire him for being a free spirit, for exposing me to a new way of being, I felt deep appreciation for the gift he brought into our marriage.

In each of life’s challenging circumstances, we have several options. If there is something that I cannot, will not, or must not change, I can choose whether or not I wallow in resentment and frustration or embrace it as a blessing. Living in a state of appreciation alleviates personal suffering, allows for individual growth, and blesses my heart with joy. What an effortless way to live!

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