Radical Acceptance

Humpty Dumpty

In the last several posts, we’ve looked at how the emotional process in society mirrors the emotional process in a family system. The 2016 election cycle has kicked up this emotional process in a powerful way that has divided not only society at large, but the smaller units within it: families.

Now we have to figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Fortunately, we know what can bring families together again, and we can apply this process to the larger group of society, too. The spiritual practice of wu-wei, as we noticed yesterday, is one of those individual practices can help us do this. So can the similar practice of radical acceptance.

As Is

If you’ve shopped the clearance racks of any store, you’ve probably had to decide whether or not to purchase that blouse without a unique button, or that pair of shorts with the broken zipper. If you buy the item “as is,” you’re agreeing with the store that you won’t return the item. You know the problem, and you accept the problem as your own.

Same goes in relationships…and in democratic presidential elections, too. If you choose someone who isn’t your identical twin in relationship, you’ll have to accept that you and your partner will come into conflict sometimes. And if you voted for a person that didn’t win the election, you’ll have to accept the outcome “as is.”

The Right Wrong Person

Poet Galway Kinnell quipped, “We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that you’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person; it has got to be the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.” I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way.


Everyone wants to be accepted just for who they are, and I believe that’s exactly what we need to do with our partners. If my partner has some quality or characteristic that is so distasteful to me that I cannot accept it, my option is to remove myself from the relationship so that my partner won’t have to be victimized by my aggression, active or passive. I don’t have the option to try to change my partner, however, so I must either accept my partner “as is” or free him to find someone who will.

Before I continue, I must qualify what I mean here. I am not saying that you need to accept abuse from your partner. However, if your partner can’t or won’t treat you respectfully, you don’t have the power to change him or her. You do have the power, the right, and the responsibility to make healthy choices and boundaries for yourself, however.

The Damage of Life in Partnership

That said, our wounds and damage from life may get in the way of healthy relating and require that we make difficult decisions about whether our own damage and and the damage of our partner is compatible. Are you the right wrong people to be together? Can you work through your respective damage in such a way that it brings you to a better place, individually and together? Or does your fighting process include so much criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling that that the fabric of your relationship erodes away in the fighting process? Does it include enough giving and receiving genuine repair attempts and accepting the influence of the other to restore the goodwill between you? (See The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman.)

The Damage of Life in Society

Our society is wounded, too. Never before has a Presidential campaign engaged us so personally, on both sides. The previous election came close because we had a black candidate on the ballot, which stirred the personal stories of minorities and others who empathize with the minority experience. This election cycle seemed to touch the personal stories of everyone in different ways. Now half the country feels safer and stronger and the other half feels vulnerable and exposed.

The half that finds the process and results of this Presidential election cycle deeply disturbing and who now feel unsafe and afraid have to accept what feels unacceptable. I’m hopeful about what can happen when we can finally pull this off. Wu-wei, radical acceptance and fighting respectfully may be just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps this is the right wrong time for our country.


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