Cynthia Fortlage purposefully shared her story as a transgender woman at our recent Unjudged event. In doing so, she taught us the importance of acceptance. And acceptance trumps understanding. In fact, acceptance must come before we attempt to understand why someone might make the transition, even after more than four decades living as a man; it must occur before we understand the fears of being a transgender woman; even before we understand what questions to ask about someone else’s life. Listen to Cynthia’s story of acceptance.
Why do we find acceptance so hard?
Part of the reason we struggle with accepting another person, their story and their experience, is that it comes with a whole bucket of thoughts and feelings which make us feel uncomfortable. When something or someone is different, it challenges our beliefs or the norm. We feel ill at ease, awkward and embarrassed. As humans, we dislike not feeling good. And we are programmed to run from or control the thoughts and feelings that make us feel bad, and the experiences that cause them.
In psychology, we call this experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is where we make unhealthy efforts to escape and avoid emotions, thoughts, memories, and other private experiences. In the short-term, experiential avoidance can often make us feel better, as we shut down any uncomfortableness. But in the long-term, those feelings just come bouncing back. And avoiding new situations or people and challenging our normative thinking has the consequence of shrinking our life and narrowing our experiences.
Acceptance is the antidote for inclusion
Acceptance is an action. We teach this in the Becoming Journey. According to Steven Hayes, in his book “A liberated mind” acceptance is the full embrace of our personal experience. It is choosing to feel, with openness and curiosity. We are centred and grounded. Acceptance enables us to remain unjudged, inclusive and open to diverse perspectives and lives.
Maybe you are struggling with acceptance , to unjudge, as you listen to Cynthia’s story? If you are, here are two practical things you can do to move forward:
1. Unjudge someone.
Think of someone who propelled you forward or lifted you up in your life.
- Did they accept you for who you are, warts and all?
- Did you feel seen by this person?
- Were you heard by them?
- Could you be yourself in their company?
- Were you unjudged by this person?
How might you take the same approach to people and situations that make you feel uncomfortable? Who might you unjudge today at work?
2. Say “yes”
But maybe you can’t imagine accepting someone when you don’t like or understand who they are or what they’ve done. Then try practising accepting people and the thoughts and feelings they evoke.
Look around and notice anything that catches your eye. As your eyes land on the book, your computer, whatever you see, notice what it feels like to look at it from the point of view of “no.” No means taking the stance – No, that’s no good. That has to change. That’s not acceptable. I want out of here. Simply scan the room and notice different items, each time adopting a “no” approach. Keep doing this for 2 minutes.
Then repeat the scan, but this time take the perspective of “yes”. Meaning – Yes that’s OK. This doesn’t have to change, it’s ok like that. I can allow it to be just as it is. Go back to noticing everything in the room, the chair, the pen, your bag, your colleague and mentally adopt a “yes” approach to each one. Do this for 2 minutes.
What do you notice? How different is your engagement with the world when you take a “yes” as opposed to a “no” approach? How different is your body when you do this? How is your energy impacted?
Then use a “yes” approach as you listen to Cynthia’s story.
Acceptance without understanding is really as simple as that. It requires us to be open to the discomfort of not understanding, to maintain the stance of unjudged. After all, how could we expect to truly understand another’s experience. We are not Cynthia and have not lived her life. But we can all be inclusive through unjudging and accepting her by saying “yes.”