An acquaintance I admire loves to say, “It is what it is.”
Does a presidential candidate have a toxic stance on global warming or gay marriage? It is what it is. Has a situation in the workplace gotten out of hand because of an employee’s bad attitude? It is what it is. What’s the status of your relationship? It is what it is.
On the one hand, the sentiment is a healthy one. Whatever the situation, there’s no use:
– pouring energy into regret
– assigning blame
– pretending things are different.
Reality exists. It is what it is.
But on the other hand, I’m not sure “It is what it is” works as a one-size-fits-all approach to life.
If “It is what it is” helps us get past regret, blame, pretending, and wish-mongering — if it helps us get grounded in reality — I’m all for it. But if we stop with “It is what it is,” we blind ourselves to our own ability to formulate intentions, identify gaps between our desires and our realities, and become agents for positive change in our lives and the world.
A candidate’s stance on gay marriage is what it is … but I can choose to support her or oppose her. A situation in the workplace might get out of hand … but I can choose to become responsible for it and take action to change it. A relationship may be the source of bliss or bedlam … but after coming to terms with whatever it is … I make the choice to stick with it or not.
Saying “It is what it is” is a necessary step toward what Byron Katie calls “falling in love with reality.”
It works better, though, when paired with “How do I want this to change?” and “What can I do to change it?”[Photo credit: Mark McElroy. “Focused.” Taken in Vigeland Sculpture Park, Norway. 2011.]