“It is what it is.”
Am I the only one that is noticing and is annoyed by this current platitude that is being tossed around like manure to an unseen crop?
The first time I heard it, it came from the lips of a grocery store clerk at Whole Paycheck who said it when we were commenting on yet another winter storm that had slammed Boulder dumping yet more of the white stuff everywhere.
I was impressed when I first heard this phrase. It felt like a relief, like the release of a long held-in breath. Living in Boulder, I’m used to Buddhist expressions and I liked this phrase, “It is what it is.” I liked the truth inherent in it. How often is our suffering caused by our stories rather than our reality?
In fact, I’m learning later in life that Reality always wins and there is wisdom in surrendering to this. Yet, how frequently do others and I insist on getting in a power struggle with Reality? We have our stories dammit and we want our stories, our fantasies, and our illusions to be the actuality in our lives, certainly not Reality.
I was working with a couple a while ago who were finding out the hard way that creating a “blended family” was a story and not a reality. One of their children wasn’t buying into it and part of the way they were able to find relief was not to give up on the child, but to give up on the fantasy of having a Brady Bunch family. Their suffering was decreased when they accepted, “it is what it is”.
But to truly live that way takes much time, discipline, acceptance and letting go. And that is no easy task. Not for us humans who seem to have these enormous egos and stories about the way we think things ought to be and we will hold on to these illusions with the death grip if need be.
But I’ve been noticing a big time down side to “It is what it is”. I’m finding people are now using it to wiggle out of owning their blame in sticky situations, mistakes made or promises not kept. I'm finding that it is an excuse for indifference, and dare I say, laziness.
I’ve heard this phrase in couple’s counseling when one of the spouses has been a very very naughty spouse, and as they are trying to rebuild the trust in the relationship, the offending spouse will say, “It is what it is.” Oh, there’s nothing Buddhist about that. That’s classic dismissiveness disguised as a wise statement. And to that, I want to say to them (and often do), “That’s bullshit.”
I’m around a lot of young people in their 20’s and this expression is being tossed around like a bright colored ball during a college football game. And I’m finding that it really doesn’t mean that the people using this expression have found deep inner peace and acceptance. It doesn’t mean they’ve done the hard and unnatural work to surrender to those things we have no control over.
When they say it, what it really means is, “Whateuuuuuuuuuuver. Who cares? I don’t want to be bothered with thinking about it.”
I ask them, “Are you worried about your futures? Do you worry about the state of the economy, a diseased health care system, global warming, war, and an educational system gone to the dogs or the threat of terrorism?"
Their reply, “It is what it is.” This is when I want to jump up, grab them by their shoulders and maybe even give them a quick slap in the face. “WAKE UP! Do something! Get involved! Stop with the platitudes and get active!”
Those of us who have lived long enough know that actions speak louder than words. Now there’s a platitude I can sink my teeth into.
I’m so glad that those who protested the Vietnam War, fought for women’s rights and advocated for the poor didn’t spend their days saying, “It is what it is.”
There is a time and a season to say, “It is what it is.” But, especially now, we must acknowledge the sense of urgency that surrounds us. There's also a time and a season to say, “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!”
And that, in my humble opinion, takes a lot more courage, depth of commitment and action than throwing up one’s hands and submitting to that which should never be submitted to.
It is what it is? Whateuuuuuuuuuuuuver.