Friday, October 21, 2022

Radical Acceptance - Buzzwords or Good Advice?

Is radical acceptance just basic common sense, or some sort of new-age cult therapy?

I saw the comic above - which by the way is a great comic strip.  The punchline is always the same - Elly hates everything - but it never ceases to amaze me how the author has kept this up for some time now, and it never gets stale.  Well, so far, anyway.

But it got me to googling what "radical acceptance" is all about, and from what I can understand, it is part of something called dialectical behavior therapy, which sounds like some kind of capacitor.  The number of buzzwords had my Spidey-sense tingling as it sounded like a lot of "est" crapola.  I am not a big fan of cults or movements - most of them are bullshit.

The core idea, however, seems sound - and sort of what I have been preaching here for a decade now.  You have to accept things as they are - to some extent - or otherwise you drive yourself insane. 

For example, this student loan debacle.  Some kids signed up for tens of thousands of dollars in student loans for worthless degrees.  It was a shitty decision, but the only real option is to pay them back.  Sure, Biden is granting a $10,000 amnesty for some borrowers, but not wiping out all debts.  Maybe there will be more amnesty in the future - maybe not.  The problem with offering ten grand in amnesty is that it sets an expectation that future loans will be forgiven - which in turn causes some borrowers to make the rational decision to not pay their loans back and wait for loan forgiveness instead.

Externalization is the buzzword I like to use.  People complain that their personal problems are not personal problems at all, but part of an overall societal problem that requires a societal change to solve.  The problem isn't that they went to Party-U for four years and then got a worthless Master's Degree in "Communications" from Professor Click.  No, the problem is that college should have been free the whole time and that student loans should be discharged in bankruptcy!

We tried the latter tactic before.  The net result was grad students walked away from massive debts whole living high on the hog in grad school.  So that loophole was closed, and just to make sure, our Republican friends decided that private student loans should be bankruptcy-proof as well.  With that guarantee in place, the banks started lending ridiculous amounts of money to kids who could never realistically pay it back.  As a result, some become perpetual debtors, or spend a good portion of their lives paying it all back.

Average student loan debt is only about  30 grand, however.  I had $38,000 in student loan debt (over $80,000 in today's dollars) and yes, I paid it all back.  I was almost 50 by the time I made the last payment, too!  So for all you naysayers claiming "You don't understand...." - I do.

But then again, I borrowed for an Engineering degree and a Law degree - not some bullshit degree in "Communications" or "Ethnic Studies" or "Anthropology" or whatever. If you want to study that fluff crap (and no, this is not up for debate, it is fluff crap) then go to a Community college or other cheap school.  Spending a hundred grand on a stupid degree is not my problem - it is yours.

But I guess I have to "accept" that people are blithering idiots and want to blame all their problems on society at large.  And by and large, I have pretty much come to accept that.  In fact, I have realized over the years that pining for perfection in the world is pretty stupid and a waste of time.  And it will drive you insane - quite literally.

Take my friend Tim.  Tim was a few years older than me and he liked to smoke an awful lot of pot.  He sort of floated through High School and stopped taking math courses in the 9th grade because they were hard.  Well, that and pot.  He dumped science in favor of "humanities" even though he was quite good in his science courses.  He went to a liberal arts college and majored in - you guessed it - "Communications" - a major that means absolutely nothing whatsoever.

He would get really high and then rail about the unfairness of the world.  Everything was stacked against him!  It was all so unfair!  The politicians were corrupt!  The "Corporations, Man!" were evil.  Even the corporation who paid his Dad a hefty salary that allowed him to graduate with no student loan debt - all evil, vile, and banal.  It always shocked him that people acted in their own best interests and not in the best interests of society at large.

When I went to work at GM, he stopped talking to me.  I had "sold out to the evil Corporations" who were paying my way though school - and a salary and health insurance to boot.  If you get a chance, I highly suggest you "sell out" - as most people end up doing.  It's not such a bad gig.  Quite good, in fact.

As you might guess, he was chronically unemployed or underemployed and moved back in with his parents.  His girlfriend left him, after years of this nonsense, as she wanted to settle down and raise a family - and an unemployed husband wasn't going to cut it.  Of course, this gave Tim a chance for introspection and reflection on where he was going with his life.

Ha-ha.  Just kidding.  Tim doubled-down his bet and said his girlfriend was "just interested in money, like all the bitches!" and smoked more pot. Once again, life dealt him a shitty hand and nothing he could have done would have altered the outcome.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Rather than accept the world as it was and work with what was and is, he sat in the corner and pouted, like a petulant child, and refused to do anything until the world was re-ordered to his tastes.  Of course, that would never happen, so it gave him an excuse to live in stasis.  Well, until his parents booted him out of the house.  Everyone was fortunate that he hadn't started collecting firearms at this point.

Now, some would argue that such "radical acceptance" would allow evil to continue in the world, and without dissent and protest and activism, nothing would ever change for the better.   And there is a nugget of truth in that. But as Dr. Sol Gordon advised me, nearly 40 years ago, the best thing I could do for myself and society was to succeed.  Because successful people are the ones who enact real change in the world, not losers who whine about how unfair everything is and do nothing to change it, for themselves or society at large.

And to some extent, this is what has happened in the last 50 years or so.  Our generation won, as I noted before.  We enacted social changes that were unheard of in the history of mankind.  So much has changed since my childhood that it is unbelievable.  And this change occurred not because people sat in the corner and pouted, or because they chanted slogans and held up signs, but because they took control of the reins and levers of power.

This is not to say there isn't so much more to be done.  Things like racial equality, equality for the sexes, and sexual liberation have come a long way - and have a longer way to go.  But to deny we have made progress simply because it isn't perfect yet is a slap in the face of our predecessors who fought - and often died - for these causes.

The world can be a pretty shitty place.  People are greedy and selfish - by default.  As a species, we seem to do things to insure our extinction.  But on the other hand, "our better angels" sometimes come to the forefront and we try, at least, to do the right thing.

But on a personal level, acceptance of things-as-they-are is so important to being active in your own life.  The person who rails against unfairness - but does nothing to advance his own cause - is falling victim to learned helplessness.  Once you give up on even trying, nothing good will ever happen in your life.

In Alcoholic's Anonymous (or any 12-step program) they have a "serenity prayer" which pretty much sums up the whole concept of "radical acceptance" very concisely:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Pretty silly prayer, but then again, it sums it up neatly.  We do have control over some aspects of our lives, but fate plays a big role as well. We can give up on what little control we have and "cast ourselves to the fates" but that rarely works out well.  Railing against fate is futile. 

Oddly enough, I am reading a biography of Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince.  People have weird ideas about Machiavelli, thinking he is this hard-assed dude who said things like "It is better to be feared than to be loved" - which he did say, as advice to a "Prince" or leader.  He wrote  The Prince after being imprisoned and tortured as being a suspected traitor.  He wrote the book hoping it would be an entree back into his life as a diplomat.  It was never "published" in his lifetime, but rather he showed to some important people, hoping they would hire him as a result.

One of the interesting aspects of his book is that he acknowledges that fate plays a big hand in the fortune of leaders, but that choices and actions play a large part as well.  Or as he put it, how you handle fate determines how successful you are.  When opportunity comes knocking, you have to at least answer the door.

All that being said, I understand where Elly is coming from.  Well, first, since she "hates everything" (which is her mantra) I suspect she is depressed and "hating everything" is her way to dealing - or not dealing - with reality.  But moreover, I am always suspect of seminars and meetings where someone stands up (particularly with a dorky microphone like that) and tells people that all their problems are their own fault.  If only they would "accept" reality, everything would fall into place!

Well, that is a bit of an oversimplification of "radical acceptance" but it does point out that there is a little bit of "blame-the-victim" in it.  Some people are indeed cast to the fates and get the shitty end of the stick, again and again.  The law of probability - if nothing else - tells is that such folks will exist in any society.

Accepting reality as it is won't, by itself, make you happy or successful.  That will take a lot of other things as well - including luck.  But to quote Edna Mode, "Luck favors the prepared, darling!"  And those who can perceive reality more clearly than others tend to be more successful in the world.

And that, in a nutshell (pardon the pun) is why these Trumpers and Qanonsense people and Antifarts are so unhappy and angry.  Their personal lives are a trainwreck, and then want to externalize all of their problems. They literally are willing to sacrifice their lives and livelihoods to follow a political cause.  Imagine if the MyPillowGuy kept his mouth shut and sold pillows instead.  He could have cashed out and lived on a yacht for the rest of his life.  Instead, he will end up bitter and broke, throwing his life away for a politcal figure who doesn't care if he lives or dies.

On a personal level, some folks argue that "radical acceptance" is nothing more than "blame-the-victim" for their own traumas in life.  You had a traumatic childhood - get over it!  See?  All better now!   But I think that is an oversimplification or a misinterpretation as to what it is all about.  Shit happens in life, and accepting that doesn't mean you are validating it or thinking it is good or great.  But it can help you move on from the "what ifs" in life that drive everyone nuts.

Late at night, if I get up to go pee (this will happen to you, more than once a night, as you get older) if I don't go back to bed right away, the brain starts ruminating as to how I could have lived my life better if I had a "do-over".  Suppose I could go back in time and make different decisions?   Buy Microsoft stock instead of a motorcycle.  Save my paper-route money instead of spending it on candy.  Put more money into the 401(k) instead of remodeling the kitchen.  Borrow less in student loans.  Not get into credit card debt - the list is endless and the human brain is relentless with "what ifs" late at night.

There is a reason our brains do this, I think - as well as dream.  It is the neural network of our brain training itself with new nodal weighting values.  We learn from our earlier mistakes, and regretting our past actions maybe is a way of programming our brains not to make the same mistakes again.  Yes, I have regrets in life - I have to accept that, for better or worse.  But, it does not mean I am doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again until I am dead.

That, in short, is the problem with not accepting the past and moving on.  You are doomed to repeat it, over and over again.

So maybe there is a nugget - a nugget - of value in this "radical acceptance" buzzword nonsense.  Don't take it as a personal assault or criticism, but just gentle advice to accept things as they are and move on with the present and the future.  Because no matter how bad things were - or are - giving up on the future isn't the answer.