Do I accept you, or do I respect you? Which allows us to be who we are?

We live at a time when our lives are filled with advances in technology that make things much quicker and easier to get done. However, it seems to leave us more time to find things in each other that we don’t like. Of course, not everyone is angry with their neighbor. But if you listen to the media or read the latest articles it would seem that most of us are. Or we feel that most of our neighbors are angry with us for some reason.

I hear 30 second spots with people saying things like “I want to be accepted for who I am”. The message seems to be that they feel like outcasts. Ostracized. Unloved.

No one wants to feel that way. Each of us has an inherent need to feel love in our life, both given outwardly and received inwardly. I consider it right up there with air to breathe in importance.

So, what’s making people feel that they aren’t accepted?
I guess that would make me wonder what the definition of “acceptance” is. Dictionary.com provides the following:
1. The act of taking or receiving something offered.
2. Favorable reception; approval; favor.
3. The act of assenting or believing: acceptance of a theory.
4. The fact of state of being accepted or acceptable.

The first definition makes me wonder if there is a group of people out there offering something that is being rejected. That one is probably pretty easy to answer.

If we open up our circle to include the world of politics, then I think we could nod our head and say firmly “yes” that something is being rejected. But people don’t seem to spend time feeling bad about it; in fact, just the opposite. It almost brings a power and strength to their cause if they are seen as the underdog. They are energized by the fight.

It’s the second definition that seems to make more sense here. The message could be “If you don’t approve of me, you don’t accept me”. Maybe they are saying “I want others to see me as favorable, approve of who I am, and find favor in what I believe.”

We are probably pretty quick to say that we would accept a perfect stranger that we know nothing about. We have no reason not to accept them. We see them simply as that, a human being, just like us.

I think where the trouble starts is when “for who I am” is added. “I want to be accepted for who I am.”

Now they are more than another human being who is just like us.

Now they are NOT just like us.

Now they are different.

Different can be good. Different can also be bad. Each of us has to figure out for ourselves what would make different go one way or the other.

Now that we understand that they are different, we see that a condition has been put on the desired acceptance and approval.

I don’t know if they intend this message, but what we seem to hear is “I want you to approve of the same things that I approve of about me that make me who I am.”

Well, now I guess that all depends. Who are you?

A little vulnerability is now required, soul bearing if you will. For example, if I want to be accepted for “who I am”, I certainly need to know “who I am”.

There are probably countless facets and subtleties that work together to make up the general composite of who I am. Yet when I really think about it, there are probably just a few criteria that are truly important and that I would want to be identified by:

Am I a good husband? Does my wife know that she is treasured and loved and valued?Am I a good father? Do my children have the confident humility to move forward and make the difference in the world that they were meant to? Have I helped them to live to their potential?Do those around me know for certain what I believe, what I value, what truths are woven into every fiber of my being, simply through their association with me? What do they know about me through watching me quietly live my life in their midst?

I think when it comes right down to it, these are the things that I would hope state who I am.

But of course other people are going to see more than that when they look at me. They not only are going to see who I am, but also what I do, how I think, what I say, which things I support, how I treat others, what I do in my spare time. They see how I choose to live my life.

Knowing that others see more than I probably want them to see, I sat back and thought about whether I feel accepted or not accepted, based on the second definition from Dictionary.com.

Probably not.

If I lay my political views out there, there will be some who accept but certainly some who do not. If I state emphatically my religious beliefs I am sure that some will agree and some surely will not.

In fact, there may not be a single aspect about me on which I could find universal acceptance. Someone out there may be offended by the way I take up too much air.

There will always be someone who will find me distasteful, not approve of my actions, and not be in favor of what I am trying to move forward.

Always.

Interestingly, it doesn’t really bother me.

So of course I asked myself my favorite question: Why?

Well, on the things that I am only familiar with and don’t have strong convictions on, I’m the first to admit that I probably don’t possess all the facts and I’m still learning. My opinions could very well change as I understand more. So it doesn’t really affect me that others would not approve of me. As I come to know more, I may not approve of myself under these conditions.

On the other hand, things that I really feel strongly about or have rooted deeply within me, that’s different. I can look back in my life and remember when it really mattered to me if people agreed or disagreed, approved or not approved. But now when I really think about it, that doesn’t bother me very much either.

Am I a non-feeling hermit who doesn’t care about the world around me?

No. I actually care. A lot.

So, what happened that it doesn’t bother me now whether others approve or not? What changed?

As I close my eyes and search my heart, I feel it’s pretty simple. I have become more at peace with my decisions and my choices. They are mine. I own them. I choose them. I want these things to be a part of who I am. Others certainly have the freedom and the right to disagree and disapprove; just as I can disagree and disapprove with things that are deeply important to them.

Whether or not you approve of me, or are going to say “I think what you are doing is wonderful”, makes really no difference on my decisions and choices. It may make them easier if you approve, but in the end it really won’t change what I choose.

Lack of approval doesn’t make me less of a person or somehow damage me. I know who I am. I have chosen to be who I am, what I am, how I am.

The things about me that I don’t approve of, I am working on. I am not a victim stuck with something inside me I can’t change.

For example, mental illness is something that I am wired with, but I don’t call myself a mentally ill person. It doesn’t define me. I can work every day to control and change my response to these mental urges and issues.

Because I want to be more than just that. I want to be a good husband, father, and neighbor, remember?

So let’s ask our question again. What about the people who do not accept me for who I am? Let’s say they don’t approve of how I am trying to live with the mental illness.

I guess I need to divide up just “who” these people are. Are they strangers? Neighbors? Family?

I’m probably not going to spend a lot of time worrying about what the strangers, or even neighbors, may think (of course, Ann would tell you with my obsessive compulsive nature that may not really be true, but you get the point). It doesn’t really matter what people outside my safe circle think.

My family’s opinion, however, does matter. I will admit that I did need the people I love the most to understand that this mental illness is actually something biological in my brain that is happening, and not me being in a very bad mood.

Or at least, I want it very badly.

Without that, I am not sure how I would continue on the fight. However, once I did have this acceptance of the people I cared about, then I found it much easier to not be concerned about other’s approval or favor.

So, let’s go back to that 30 second spot of the person asking to be accepted.

I wonder if the person isn’t asking all of society to approve and embrace his or her particular thoughts and actions?

I wonder if they really are asking those they love the most for approval, for acceptance?

Now, what happens when those we love the most then choose to not approve, not embrace, not receive with favor the things that we want to fill our life with?

Is this when we turn and seek that approval from society at large? Sort of grasping at a “second best” solution?

Certainly those closest to us have the freedom, the right to approve or not approve. Everyone is on their own journey and we are all at different points in our learning and becoming. Remember, we have to choose for ourselves what makes different good or bad.

As I get older and fatter and balder, I’ve learned that I can absolutely love someone and love many, many things about them and not approve of particular things. They know my position and where I stand on these particular things. I don’t apologize or try to minimize issues that we disagree on. Part of me being me is being able to stand up and speak clearly the things that I feel to be true. It’s who I am.

But I also don’t attack or fight with them on the things that we disagree about every time we get together.

A long time ago I was taught that real love is being able to separate the behavior from the human being. I believe that is true. I know where they stand. They know where I stand. We understand each other.

Of course, if we really think about it, all of us have parts of ourselves that we don’t really like much. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we should we then expect others to love everything about us, without exception, would it?

Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe we need to change the word from acceptance to something like tolerance. Can you love me even though I have this or that about me that you don’t approve of?

My wife knows absolutely everything about me, every wart, every problem, every struggle. There’s a lot there to not approve of.

But she loves me anyway. Truly loves me and wants to be with me.

Maybe a step farther than tolerance would be respect.

Can you respect me even though you don’t approve of everything about me? Can you feel kindness toward me?

The reality is I can disagree with things you feel are important, just as I know that you can disagree with things that are deeply personal and vital to me.

Here’s a concept: Knowing we disagree, can we still work together? Build a friendship? Based on things we do agree on, can we develop genuine respect for each other?

Yes. I will say it firmly and with conviction. YES.

So, even though you don’t agree with me, don’t approve of some of the things that make me “me”, I would like to work with you on common ground projects. I would like to get to know you better and find things that I do like about you. I’m willing to bet that for most of us, we would find the number of things that we do like about others will always be more than the number of things we don’t particularly approve of.

And I feel that regardless of that number, I choose to give you my respect.

So, do I accept you? Or, do I respect you? Which one allows each of us be “who we are”?

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