We have all heard both these phrases and have an idea about what they mean. Which one is a better life-philosophy to follow? The truth is that both are natural and valid ways of dealing with situations – despite the apparent contradiction.
Accepting things as they are as well as fighting for what you believe in are two sides of the same coin. Theologist Reinhold Niebuhr said it best. He prayed, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Wisdom is the most important thing here, aside from developing the skill of how to ‘roll with it’ as well as learning how to ‘go against the flow.’
Let’s have a realistic look at both these ideologies. Without acceptance there is no union with life. One is not embracing life by saying ‘I am ok with what you have created in my life. It is a learning.’ And without learning to swim upstream, you cannot challenge difficulties and problems that need to be dealt with. Imagine that you simply accept all situations as they arise. Eventually, you would reach a point where you would have the accept the fact that you are not able to accept everything. You would eventually have to realize that there is such a thing as influencing reality and start to become a force for change in your life. So, One way of being leads to the other.
But how does one know when to accept things and when to press for change? Is it the intensity of the situation? The nature? One’s mood? It’s all three. And a good judge of which philosophy to follow is the impact of the choice on your life. If accepting a situation would teach you how to accept other things in life or perhaps bring you genuine peace of mind, it is worth accepting. If resisting a force would likewise teach you to deal with other such forces, and kindle your inner fire of righteousness, it is likely that non-submission is the right course of action.
Perhaps a situation is too intense to fight with – your family and friends simply refuse to understand the reasons for a change that you made in your life. What good would fighting with this situation do? You would be upset, they would be upset, and you would be fueling a fire of chaos. It is better to accept in such situations. But perhaps someone in your family or friend circle is treating you negatively. Accepting this would only cause you suffering and the concerned party would most likely develop a pattern of treating others the same way. Proactive resistance to such behavior is unquestionably right. But what if there is something that you ought to resist but you are simply feeling depressed. Sometimes it pays to fight through the depression, but often you will not have the energy and therefore not be able to influence the situation the way you want to. Acceptance, even though theoretically wrong, is the only way you could mitigate the situation while remaining centered.
To conclude, it is what is called ‘differentiating wisdom’ in Buddhism that is essential to deciding when to abide by a philosophy of acceptance or instead by one of proactive non-acceptance. This kind of intelligence applies everywhere else in life as well and is what makes a difference in life or death situations as well as your overall growth as a spiritual and human being.