The Inertia of Acceptance

Sonya Renee Taylor’s recent interview with Brené Brown has given me a lot to think about.

One point of discussion that stands out is the understanding of the phrase “I accept you” as inert. It doesn’t really do anything. Acceptance is like, meh. Almost insignificant. Isn’t it much better to be loved? Doesn’t love lead to real action and change?

I know I’ve been in environments where I feel accepted. People smile and nod and do all the things they’re supposed to do in order to remain civil. But there can still be an underlying tension preventing a true sense of belonging. A lack of understanding or a biased assumption pushing back against a full-hearted embrace of all of our differences. A clear hesitation to know me at a deeper level. A fear of what may be found.

Acceptance can act as a shield to protect us from true vulnerability. Let’s say you’re in a situation with others whom you don’t fully understand. The social expectation is to have good manners and not make a fuss. You accept them even though you can’t relate to them. But the moment something rubs you the wrong way you run away in fear because you never bothered to try to understand. Acceptance can make us complacent and prevent us from getting to know someone on a more intimate level: a level that’s more conducive to love.

We can love others even if they’re different from us. In fact, love can be stronger because of differences. But the socially accepted norm of doing the bare minimum and simply “accepting” people gets in the way of more complicated, nuanced relationships. And in my experience, even questioning or confronting the legitimacy of simplified “acceptance” can stir a lot of trouble. People get uncomfortable when they’re faced with their own biases and reluctance to give in to love.

Artists are inquisitive people. One would hope that we may be more inclined to get more curious and move past the first layer of acceptance, venturing into the more interesting and fulfilling layer of understanding and love.

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