“As I get older, the more I stay focused on the acceptance of myself and others and choose compassion over judgment and curiosity over fear.”
-Tracee Ellis Ross
I was not sure what to expect when I said “yes” to work at Alton L. Collins Retreat Center. While I have only been on staff for six months, I have already encountered an incredible array of people. From communities of faithful Methodists, passionate Portland folk who bond over board games, to the mystical leaders of the Dervish Healing Order, I have experienced the posture of acceptance in beautiful ways; and not just from our staff extending it to groups, but the groups also practicing acceptance towards us.
Whether in a hospital, nonprofit, or church setting, I have seen people reject the things that do not meet their expectations; most tragically, other people. Difference is often seen as a threat to who we are. Diversity is seen as a threat to the idols we have made of our identities and our way of doing things, when, in fact, it’s often exactly what we need. It’s so easy to get trapped in the pattern of how we are, instead of encountering new ways to live and relate with others and our world. Acceptance can be scary because it opens our eyes to see that we might not have it all figured out, but that is a profound gift. Acceptance opens our eyes to see beyond ourselves and simply see who or what is in front of us as is— without judgement which in turn can be liberating for how we accept ourselves.
Too often we understand acceptance as a noun, when someone or something is accepted for who they are or what it is. And while this is true and wonderful, it is incomplete. Choosing to put aside our biases and expectations in order to make space for someone else to be exactly who they are is an ongoing posture, a way of orienting and being in the world, and that is hard. In the polarizing context I notice in the United States, it’s not easy to sustain or even begin relationships with those we don’t agree with. I think part of that is because we are often too caught up in our way being “the right way.” But just because we accept someone for all that they are does not mean we have to agree with them on every issue, little or big. I am all too guilty about feeling the need to change people instead of connecting and being present to where they are coming from, but what I must hold myself to is what’s more than someone’s thoughts and opinions, their humanity. Acceptance, understood as an embodiment of compassionate curiosity towards ourselves and others, makes space for others to be seen and valued as they are regardless of how in-line it is with our own understandings.