One thing I like about Unitarian Universalism is that it encourages us to use our freedom of thought and conscience to become better people.
That was my beef with self-acceptance. It once seemed like the end of the story. Viewing self-acceptance this way, I had a choice: I could accept that I was sometimes selfish or could try to become less selfish. One could argue living life as a self-acknowledged selfish person meant not worrying about my selfishness, perhaps letting it get worse, because, hey, I’d accepted that I was selfish. This puts “self-acceptance” about where “tolerance” is, a mediocre state that one settles for when one can’t do better.
“Self acceptance” vs. “Working on one’s flaws” is a false choice, though.
For every choice we make, there are thousands that follow, most of them actions rather than states of mind. I think that’s where my confusion was. Self-acceptance isn’t a one time thing, an award we give ourselves once and stick on the shelf. Whether or not we accept that we’re selfish doesn’t matter in the moment when we’re taking something for ourselves that might not be ours.
Self acceptance is an ongoing state of mind.
But that state of mind might change how we think about the actions that follow.
When something is broken on a complicated website, the developers know it is broken, but haven’t figured out how to fix it yet, it sometimes goes on a list of “known issues.” The developers understand that if you’re using an outdated browser, the search function doesn’t work quite right. They put that problem on the list to signify that they’re working on it.
That’s what self-acceptance is to me. I understand I’m selfish. It’s a known issue. Just about every website has known issues, and nobody ever says “the search function is a little funky when the user hasn’t updated their browser, guess the whole thing is useless.” We accept the known issues and move on. We know it’s useful and we keep using it.
Treating my flaws as known issues makes the process of self improvement a lot easier. If you know you make everything about you, it makes it a lot easier to catch yourself doing that. You’re looking for the pattern. You can’t make changes in your own behavior if you never notice the behavior you’re trying to change, and our own flaws can be hard to see.
More to the point, it makes not giving up, the most critical issue of self-improvement, in itself easier. If we think something is hopeless, it’s hard to put effort into improving it. We want to devote our energy to solvable problems.
But self-acceptance gives us a base to move forth from. It teaches us that we’re flawed but functional, and improvement takes ingenuity and work, but is always within reach. It invites us to an adventure.
We’re all OK, and we’re all loved. Now where will you go from there?