As promised, we are commencing a year long journey to explore strengths of character (virtues) and their connection to leadership at school, at home, at work and in community.  Here, we will examine specific virtues and the science and growing understanding of their application in our lives.  In these times of great change, I contend that these virtues help form the foundation of advancing and strengthening our schools, workplaces, communities and families… and our world.  This is not kumbaya.  This is not soft work.  But it is work.

So, let’s dig in and begin with Acceptance.

Dealing with change either experienced or created by us… it requires Acceptance.  Yes, it is a virtue and, no, it is not about some sense of defeat or surrender; at least not in some traditional understanding.  Indeed, this past year, with the quick and surprising passing of my mother and the ongoing experience with a TIA or Brain Bleed (still to be determined), the virtue of acceptance has been an ally with whom I have increasingly had to forge a stronger and healthier relationship.  As someone who has learned to fight and fight well, there have been too many times in my life where I have forgotten the true meaning of this virtue, too often seeing it as some form of defeat.  It is not.

As noted before, I am a Master Facilitator for the global Virtues Project™, and an educator for over 20 years… and I am aware that the virtues card for acceptance refers to a number of key concepts.  In the words of the card…

“Acceptance is embracing life on its own terms.  We are open to what is, rather than wishing for something different.”

Now, some might say that acceptance is about settling and/or giving up or in.  I think not.  This idea of accepting life on its own terms and being open to what is does not preclude working for change.  It means accepting what is, now.  It means acknowledging where we are when we are.  It means being truthful about what is, at this moment.

On my own path personally and professionally, this is the real starting point; being truthful about what is, at this moment.  It engages me to see where I am, without presuming that is where I will stay.  Any great vision or goal requires this ability to understand where we are at any given time.  Indeed, a blog of mine some weeks back … speaks to this.

In my book, Human Being Being Human, I pose the question… “How many of you out there in reader land have ever experienced a situation at work, school, family or community where so many were trying to “solve” a problem when they were, actually, simply addressing symptoms… while consciously and/or subconsciously ignoring the real issue?”

In organizational behavior, we call this problem identification; addressing the visible as it is seemingly easier to “assess and address”.  But, too often, it is consciously or unconsciously motivated by avoiding what we are not prepared to accept.  When we practice problem identification, we do attempt to solve problems at the “visible” level, often times simply covering up what is apparently the real problem and ignoring the deeper, structural issues at play. More often than not, a primary motivation for this approach is the unwillingness to accept what is truly going on.

Enter Acceptance as a strength of character.

I have long believed that the best definition of a problem is the difference between where we are and where we want to be.  It does not mean that a problem is impossible to solve.  It implies that we are in one place and we need to be in another. That, in turn, implies that we need to be honest about both where we truly are and where we really want to be.

THAT requires acceptance.   We cannot address a problem or seize an opportunity until we are honestly accepting of the current state of how things are.  Knowing where we are, we now can take whatever action is necessary.  It is the acceptance of MLK or Mandela or Malala with respect to the sense of injustice in their worlds and times.  It is the acceptance of any great coach that takes over a team with a losing record… or after a stunning and premature defeat in the playoffs.  You honestly assess where you are, accepting that is where you are, now.

It is not an acceptance of surrender… but an acceptance of the place where we must begin.  It is not a case of wishful thinking about where things need to be or go, but an acknowledgement of the need to do something…. to take action. It does not require an acceptance of the notion that we cannot change things.  It requires that we truly accept where things are, now.  Then, and only then, can we be accurate in our assessment of what needs to be done.

Secondly, the acceptance card refers to embracing.   This is so much more powerful than just admitting.   When we practice the kind of truthfulness that acceptance requires, we may find we are facing:

  • opportunities
  • challenges, or
  • simple moments of gratitude for where we are.

Either way, we need to embrace.  Opportunities are exciting and clearly worthy of embracing, but so are challenges.  I have often said that one of the best thoughts that we can have in facing a challenge is to think “I am about to get better now” because challenges have that real and amazing potential to cause us to strengthen and/or grow.  Finally, if our moment of truthfulness “only” reveals the need for gratitude… that we are happy about the place in which we find ourselves… then what is there NOT to embrace?

So, when we consider leadership and the ability to set out in a direction where we need to go, personally or professionally, we need to accept where we are, when we are.  We may be the seedling, with the potential of growing into a strong, powerful, living tree.  We may be finding ourselves in need of redirection, adjustment or consolidation.  We may find we are in need of nothing but to appreciate our space and time.   Bottom line is that the best leadership starts with acceptance.

This is true in school as student or educator.  That first day of class needs to be seen for what it is, challenges and opportunities alike.  That situation with behavior must be seen for what it is, in order to be effectively addressed.  It is true at work and in community.  We cannot address what we will not see.

Acceptance does not imply defeat.  It is the virtue that helps us map where we need to go and how we will get there.  It is that starting point.

So, my question to you is this…

At school, family, work or community, what is one situation that you truthfully and boldly need to practice acceptance to understand your starting point? 

Get clear on that.  It is the base of any mountain that is in need of climbing.

I hope you find this acceptable.

Peace, passion and prosperity.

Barry Lewis Green, aka The Unity Guy™