Yet my Christian faith teaches me that I am not what I produce. I am valuable because I am a human being endowed by God with intrinsic dignity and worth. I have found solace in that truth. My faith teaches me that my value is not contingent on my circumstances. Radical acceptance—which can be practiced regardless of one’s faith or worldview—is a complementary concept. It teaches me to release what I cannot control so that I can focus on what I can change.In dialectical behavioral therapy, radical acceptance is often used to help people come to terms with circumstances they can’t change. It requires us to give up the elusive idea that we are in control and instead accept reality as it is. Linehan and her co-authors write: “Another way of thinking about it is that radical acceptance is radical truth. In other words, acceptance is experiencing something without the haze of what one wants and does not want it to be.” So without the haze, here is the reality we must accept: We are in the midst of a pandemic. Several states require that face masks be worn in public. We are in a recession. We have been in our homes and social distancing for more than two months, and this will continue intermittently until a vaccine or an effective treatment is available. According to the infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci, “You don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline.”Thirty-eight million Americans are unemployed, and that number is expected to climb. America has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, and the virus is likely to spread further due to the reopening of state and local economies, as well as the Black Lives Matter protests (though public-health officials have endorsed them). We cannot bury our departed loved ones in the traditional ways we are accustomed to, and many cannot be at the bedside of their loved ones to say final goodbyes. Prolonged quarantine is affecting our collective mental health, and those who live alone are experiencing acute isolation. On top of all of this, black people are forced to process yet more black deaths at the hands of police. Presently, the toll on our mental health is unquantifiable, but the tears we cry—and the tears we cannot bring ourselves to cry—are the calculus. This is our reality.Radical acceptance of this reality is not to be confused with approval of it. Linehan explains it thusly: “Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t try to change things … You can’t change anything if you don’t accept it, because if you don’t accept it, you’ll try to change something else that you think is reality.”
Additionally, radical acceptance is not a call to stoicism. An array of emotions (anger, fear, anxiety, grief, etc.) may arise within you in response to reality. Suppressing these emotions can be tempting, but allowing yourself to feel whatever you feel without judgment is also a kind of radical acceptance. And I have found that radical acceptance can be freeing—accepting what you cannot change enables you to focus on what you can. I see a sense of that freedom in these protests; indeed, if radical acceptance is radical truth, as Linehan says, then white supremacy and police brutality are the truths we must see to change reality. Letting ourselves feel the anger and grief that come with those truths will free us.