Radical Acceptance

The practice of radical acceptance is not easy. It demands that regardless of background or circumstance we find strengths and live our empathy. It demands that we see people and their potential, not their past. It challenges us to examine our own potential biases because of our own values and beliefs and rise beyond those to enter into relationship with others who live their lives differently than how we live ours.

Radical acceptance means we acknowledge that life is what it is. We cannot force change in others. We are limited in how much influence we can have in particular circumstances. We cannot change the past. We have to grow from it, and at times, grow with it.

Suffering is what you do with that pain and the interpretation you put on the pain. Suffering is optional; pain is not. The people we serve have pain, and their pain can be difficult to accept without judgment. It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true. And it’s more difficult to not accept. Not accepting pain brings suffering to those we serve and to ourselves. People we serve have a history and often current realities of pain. That doesn’t mean they should suffer. We serve those that have been rejected by other systems, other services, themselves and their families. We serve those that have rejected offers of assistance. We serve those where the easy thing to do is see deficits.

When we truly live and practice from a place of radical acceptance, it is freeing for us as the support provider. We enter into a relationship based upon an understanding of equality, not a relationship between healer and wounded. We see and live our own humanity in being present in the humanity of others, believing and embracing that everyone should have a future that is not dictated by their past.

Every now and then I fool myself into thinking we don’t need to talk about radical acceptance anymore. And I am wrong. Last week, for example, I struggled (and became internally frustrated) at the inability for people to see housing prioritization based upon people with deeper needs first. At issue in this situation was a strong reluctance on the part of some to house people with substance use disorders if there was a “motivated” person without a substance use disorder that could be served first; to serve people with criminal backgrounds – including involvement in things like pedophilia – when they thought a “motivated” person without a criminal background should be served first.

What becomes most difficult to me in situations such as what I described above is that the barrier is one of feelings, not logic. I can lay out facts related to serving people with higher needs, and point to policy direction that reinforces doing just that. But what I cannot breakthrough using logic is the intractability that comes with a deserving and undeserving poor.

Where do we go from here? What is the solution to this? It is my belief that we need to not only practice radical acceptance, we need to talk about it too. We make assumptions that others that do this work are on the same page as us when it comes to morals and beliefs. Are they? There is only one way to find out. And where there is distance between us, it behooves us to find out why and whether our collective interests in ending homelessness are, in fact, compatible.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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