By Rick Hanson
Accept them as they are.
I admit it: whether close to home or far away, I wish some people were different. Depending on who they are, I wish they’d stop doing things like leaving cabinet doors open in our kitchen, sending me spam emails or turning a blind eye to global warming. And I wish they’d start doing things like being friendlier toward me or spending more money on public education. Even if it doesn’t affect me directly, for their own sake I do wish that various people I care about were more energetic, less anxious, or less self-critical.
In what ways do you wish that people were different?
Think about the people close to you—friends, family, mates—as well co-workers, drivers on the highway, business people, media types, politicians and world leaders. Think about people who are not doing their share of housework, not getting you the healthcare you need, promoting political policies that you dislike (if not despise).
It’s normal to wish that others were different, just like it’s normal to wish that you, yourself, were different (e.g., thinner, richer, wiser). It’s fine to try to influence others in skillful, ethical ways.
But problems come when we tip into righteousness, resistance, anger, fault-finding, badgering, or any other kind of struggle.
Instead, we could accept them for who they are and for who they are not.
Accepting people does not itself mean agreeing with them, approving of them, waiving your own rights, or downplaying their impact upon you.
You can still take appropriate actions to protect or support yourself or others. Or you can simply let people be. Either way, you accept the reality of the other person. You may not like it, you may not prefer it, you may feel sad or angry about it, but at a deeper level, you are at peace with it. That alone is a blessing. And sometimes, your shift to acceptance can help things get better.
Pick someone who is important to you (you can do this practice with multiple people).
In your mind, out loud, or in writing, say things like these and see how you feel: “I accept you completely. Countless causes, large and small, have led you to think, speak, and act the way you do. You are who you are. I let it be. You are a fact and I accept the facts in my life. You and I are part of a larger whole that is what it is, and I accept it, too.”
If you like, be more specific, naming aspects of this person that particularly bother you, such as: “I accept that you…snore…leave your clothes on the floor, are still angry with me, have little natural interest in sex, are fighting me tooth-and-nail in this divorce, don’t really understand me, are not a good teacher for my child, break the law, hurt people on a large scale.” And remember that you can still disagree with, make requests of, or stand up to other people—while accepting them fully.
See if you can tolerate what comes up for you when you soften into acceptance. Often we avoid accepting other people as a way to avoid the feelings we’d have if we opened wide to everything they are and everything they’re not.
Consider how you have gotten tangled up with this other person while struggling to change them.
When I do this myself, I become aware of my own rightness, positionality, judgments, pushiness, irritability, narrow views, hurts, longings, grievances or remorse. See if you can let go of some—even all of these entanglements. Open to the easing, relief and peace that can come when you do.
Also consider how much you like it when you feel that another person accepts you completely. It’s a beautiful gift – and we can give it ourselves to others when we accept them. Imagine how it might improve your relationship with someone if that person felt you accepted him or her fully.
Acceptance is a gift that gives back.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness (in 14 languages), Buddha’s Brain (in 25 languages), Just One Thing (in 14 languages), and Mother Nurture. He edits the Wise Brain Bulletin and has several audio programs. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on BBC, CBS, and NPR, and he offers the free Just One Thing newsletter with over 100,000 subscribers, plus the online Foundations of Well-Being program in positive neuroplasticity.
Editor: Sherrin Fitzer