Radical acceptance in a time of fear

Radical acceptance in a time of fear

A friend on Facebook referred to Hillary Clinton as “Hitlery.” She is a practicing Christian and a smart, loving person.

As I scrolled past her post my mind went to home base, the place where I’m most comfortable—my intellect. My first (internal) response was to critique her obvious lack of understanding of Fascism and the Third Reich. Clinton is not an occupant of that particular political territory.

When I let my heart respond, I knew my critique was a defense mechanism. If I can put this friend in a box called, “You are stupid,” then her words hurt less. Truly, the hurt comes from that human frailty of taking everything personally. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, so my friend’s comments means she thinks I’m the sort of person who would support Hitler.

Except, I’m pretty sure she thinks nothing of the sort. In fact, I suspect she wasn’t thinking of me at all when she posted this.

We’re living in a time of fear, which opens within us a great capacity to be hateful and to draw clear lines around “us” and “them.”

Few among us self-identify as supporters of Hitler (though, sadly, there are some). It is a safe “devil” term, one of those words that helps us express our alienation from a person or a worldview. Devil terms are short cuts. We are freed from making rational arguments. Hillary + Hitler = Hitlery. No need for an explanation. No need for evidence or support.

We all use these terms, of course. But it’s so much easier to judge and critique others.

I don’t really have a political point to make. Rather, I’ve been thinking about why I am Facebook friends with some people who are so different from me. And, why are they friends with me?

I’m as prone to hatefulness as the next person. I prefer to call it snarkiness but, it’s much of a muchness. I posts lots of things about politics. I use curse words. I’m an out of the closet atheist who shares a Facebook feed with evangelical Christians.

I have no way of knowing their reasons, but I’m realizing that my reasons are directly connected to my experience with cancer.

When I got that diagnosis, I saw the world through a new lens. Everything was linked to mortality, a sense that time was running out.

For me, cancer threw down the gauntlet. I no longer think that time is on our side. And, life is just too short to choose my friends based on our political and religious compatibility.

These people are part of my history, part of who I am. I am sometimes in awe of their ability to accept me and to include me in posts about their children and grandchildren.

However fearful we are of our world, we have enough trust in each other to risk contact with “them” and to be, for a moment here and there, an “us.”

As a part of learning mindfulness, developing resilience, and learning to cope with anxiety, I’ve been practicing Radical Acceptance. And by practice, I mean I have to concentrate. I try and fail and try again.

When I’ve accepted friend requests from some of these folks I know who I’m including in my circle. If we remain friends, it is because we honor an unwritten rule that we won’t engage in verbal sparring. We’re too far apart to have meaningful exchanges. We’ve learned to scroll past but to linger when we’re talking about our kids and our jobs.

Radical acceptance also means that I’m willing to be myself around people who I know will disapprove of my beliefs and behaviors. It is is ok for them to feel and believe what they feel and believe. I don’t have to seek their approval or change to accommodate them. I don’t have to defend myself—not even to myself.

This is not to say that we should be disrespectful, that we shouldn’t try to be better people, or that we shouldn’t talk about hard things.

It’s a murky world out there and we’re all making our way. We will hurt each other and offend each other. But, that’s ok. Or, put differently, it is just the way of the world.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve unfriended plenty of people and have been unfriended. I’ve refused to make connections with some folks. I eliminate the toxic when I can

But, in this moment, right now, I’m grateful to find acceptance in others and to accept them as they are.

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