I was in Target with my 7-year-old son over the weekend. My husband and 10-year-old son were attending the final Coyote’s Game of the season so the little guy and me were out spending money on toys. After he picked out a Lego set (Batman and Killer Croc), we went through the Easter section. He asked me “Mommy, does the Easter Bunny visit all children?” I responded with “I’m sure the Easter Bunny visits everyone that celebrates Easter”. He says “Oh, ok. Why don’t people celebrate Easter?” We then have a conversation in the aisle of Target about differences in belief systems. I gave a few examples like “You know, how dad and your brother love going to hockey games and we don’t. That’s a difference. Or how you like Frozen songs and your brother hates them”. My 7 year old then said something to me that made me sad. He said “There was a kid in kindergarten that I was friends with but I’m not anymore because he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus and I do”. Talk about a parenting fail! I thought I had done a good job of teaching my kids that differences are a good thing. I try to demonstrate how differences can be amazing and make the world a diverse and interesting place full of learning and opportunities. I thought I had taught them that we could love and respect one another and not agree on everything.
A few days after that Easter aisle conversation, I returned to work and began hearing clients talk about how they have not felt accepted because of differences. Common themes of feeling rejected have been: politics, sexual preferences/orientation, religion, cultural norms, and lifestyle choices.
Think about people that you are closest to in your life. Take a few minutes to reflect on all the similarities between you and them. Now, think about all the differences. Please think about everything. This means, physical appearance, rituals, religion, finances, family values, education level, food choices, vacation habits, etc. I’m guessing that there is not one person that is identical to you. Even identical twins have differences in preferences and personalities.
Now, think about how you deal with differences in these relationships. Do the differences come up often? How important are the differences? Do you tolerate the differences, meaning you put up with them, or do you accept them? The difference between tolerance and acceptance, in my own words, is that when you accept something/someone, you are saying that you respect this person. Acceptance does not mean that you have to agree with difference, but that you care more about the person than the difference. This acceptance level is different for everyone but I encourage you to try to be more accepting of differences than judgmental.
Here’s a silly example. I’m one of those people that is upset that the dolphins were shipped from Hawaii to the aquarium in Scottsdale. There is a special place in my heart for animals and I do not believe that dolphins should be out of the ocean. Now, I have a friend who could care less about the dolphins and thinks that they are being taken care of. This difference does not make want to not be friends with her. This difference was a lighthearted conversation and we can agree to disagree. This really was more of joking about it than a conversation.
Here’s a more serious example. I have friends that have different parenting strategies than I do. I do not agree with their methods but I am also not in their family dynamic and cannot judge. What I know is that their method does not work for my boys and me. We are still friends and I accept that this is what works for them. I know that my way does not mean that it is right way and may not be effective for them. This does not make me think of these friends any differently.
Why is acceptance important?
You may be wondering why acceptance is important. Well, we are wired for belonging. This means that our DNA is coded for emotional and physical connection and feelings of belong.
Brene’ Brown defines belonging as ‘the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, or sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.”
We have to be able to accept ourselves, and others, as they are, without judgment, in order to truly connect and create this sense of belonging. This means being vulnerable with safe people and showing our authentic selves. We can only do this when we feel as though we will be accepted. Otherwise, we will show our fake selves and try to fit in but this blocks us from truly belonging.
Ways to Improve Acceptance
Acceptance can be difficult so please practice it daily. Start small if you need to.
This post was written by Minon Maier – LMFT