Nothing About You is Random
Another take on self-acceptance
So for the past week, a certain idea has repeatedly popped up in many of my online conversations, as well as in the books I’ve been reading. Clearly, this is an idea that has my subconscious in knots, and so after much procrastination, I’ve finally decided to flesh the idea out, and put pen to paper, or in this case, finger to keyboard.
The subject is self-acceptance. I wrote an article a while ago, discussing Bruce Lee’s idea that self-control can only be gained via self-acceptance, and after a recent re-read, I assumed that I had said everything I know on the topic. Apparently that’s not the case.
I came across a tweet last week that, paraphrased, went: “discipline = trying to go against the laws of nature.” This intrigued me deeply, because despite understanding the importance of self-discipline, I loathe restraining myself. It sucks hard.
So, unable to contain my curiosity — which is basically all the time these days — I asked “So what would you do in a situation where the laws of nature appear to work against your favor i.e. you’re craving junk food?”
I was confused at first, but she explained further and the fish scales dropped from my eyes.
Every process that goes on inside you, from activities like breathing and digestion, to mental processes and behavior, has a benign (at worst; neutral) purpose behind its existence. These processes extend to include the things you label as flaws.
Just like your body breathes to metabolize the food you eat, you carry out your vices for purposes that transcend being bad, stupid, evil or even good for that matter. It’s like earthquakes, or natural disasters in general, in that though these phenomena cause a lot of destruction, the earth isn’t trying to murder anyone, it’s just releasing energy that has built up for hundreds to millions of years, in an attempt to restore balance.
Likewise, you behave the way you do, because a part (or parts) of you is (or are) trying to accomplish something, and in the process, restore a balance that has been lost. Nothing you do is pointless or random; every action is a link in the chains that make up the intricately interconnected, and complex system that is you.
This is where self-acceptance comes in. You will never give yourself the chance to peer behind the curtain of your acts if you continually repress the things you label as bad or sinful, or are ashamed of. Nonetheless, blindly glorifying acts considered immoral won’t do you any good either. The aim here, is to simply accept that you do certain things, and to understand that these actions have valid, if misinformed, motives.
Don’t try to run away from your vices, don’t try to crush them with willpower, and at the same time, don’t randomly embrace behavior that is low-key killing you in the name of self-love, or self-acceptance. All that is required is a dispassionate understanding that your vices and, your life in general, are the effects of causes you’re yet to understand.
This might sound like common sense, and indeed it is; trying to understand ourselves is something we all do, but the problem is, most of us approach the exercise with prejudice and secondhand knowledge. We either rage against our vices with pitchforks and fire, and try to force ourselves into solutions recommended either by pastor, mummy, daddy, that aunt, that uncle, or someone who thinks they know us better than we know ourselves. Or, we rush to defend same vices, because we, for whatever reason, don’t want to admit our disinterest in change, which is perfectly fine; all things are permissible as long as you’re willing to live with the consequences of your actions.
Both scenarios lack the nonjudgmental observation, and genuine curiosity that proper self-acceptance connotes. This Quora answer by Antti Vanhanen to the question “How does one stop wanting to seek validation from others?” portrays what the self-acceptance I’m trying to sell you looks like:
“What you’re doing — and what most people in this situation do — is focus on behavior. When we focus on behavior, we generally aren’t looking to understand it, but are simply looking for a button to push so we can stop the behavior.
We want a shortcut, a ‘proven 5 step method.’
Something quick, painless and highly effective.
Of course, that almost never exists.
We’re told it exists by every second marketer out there, but unfortunately experience tells us different.
The reason we don’t want to take the time to understand our issues is because:
1. It’s probably time consuming
2. It must be complex (because we don’t yet understand it)
3. It might stir up all sorts of bad thoughts and feelings that we’d really like to avoid.
What tends to happen when we seek to change behaviors without understanding is that we end up placing one behavior against another. This takes the form of,
I don’t want to, but I should
I want to, but I shouldn't
When we plot two behaviors against one another, we are essentially creating a short-circuit that consumes massive amounts of energy without producing much useful output. This is why most people’s resolutions and goals fail — they spend most of their energy resisting and wrestling with themselves, and only have very limited energy and patience left for important work.
So what can we do instead?
We can take the easy way. We can simply seek to understand. That’s it. We aren’t looking to understand and apply, rather, we want to simply understand because that allows us to approach the use from a curious, peaceful place.
‘But how will understanding change anything? Don’t I need to take action?’
Forget the action for now. Actions flow naturally from understanding.
At its core, bragging is simply paint that we use to try to cover up our insecurity.
“I want to be seen as successful/funny/smart/sexy/courageous, and if people don’t seem to see that, I feel a need to call attention to that fact.
But deep down, I know I don’t feel successful/funny/smart/sexy/courageous all the time.
And so I have doubts about myself. I question whether I truly am good enough.”
So the behavior of bragging isn’t a bad, selfish or evil behavior, but rather an innocent call for help.
Really, what we are saying is something along the lines of:
“Help me, I don’t feel good about me and I want you to notice me and reassure me I’m ok. Just please tell me that so I can find peace.”
Of course, when we brag, there is no humility to it, because we doing our very best to hide any sign of weakness and pain.
So we… brag and feign confidence and indifference to weakness.
That’s it. Excluding the interpretation, which depends on context, that’s what radical self acceptance is about: delaying judgement and having the courage, patience and self honesty to see your actions for what they really are; symptoms of the way you consciously and unconsciously see— or don’t see— life.
It’s tricky business that will most likely last for the rest of your life and still remain incomplete when you die, but no need to fret, small steps in radically accepting your self and your life, can lead to major improvements in your relationship with yourself, and the world by extension.
So, that’s it, nothing you do is random, everything that happens in you, and through you, is purposeful. Learn to listen to yourself without judgment and without prejudice; silently observe your behavioral and thought patterns; question them; ask: “what belief triggered this thought, or this action?.” Don’t try to paint heroic or victimized pictures over the things you observe in yourself, just look and see, all the while keeping in mind that you will never really know what you are, nor why you do what you do; all you can do is make well-informed guesses, which is a much better deal than holding damaging self schemas. That reminds me, read! read fiction, read about the human condition, be a little curious about the forces that drive your behavior, it will help you build self awareness; which will reduce the power people and situations hold over you.
You’re more of a stranger to yourself than you know; life is a simultaneous journey of self creation and discovery. Self acceptance is a valuable tool for discovering the raw materials you were given, the random information and programming you’ve blindly accepted, and the ego that has resulted, with your unconscious permission, from all this. It’s what enables you to use this information to then create the self you need based on what you’ve got.
There’s a lot more to this than I can include in this article, I myself am still learning. I won’t be surprised if in a year’s time I revisit this article and go “wtf was I thinking, this is a load of bullshit!”
Till then however, I bid you farewell, and wish you good luck on your stewardship journey. Peace.