Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Are You Strong Enough to Accept the Truth?

“You can’t handle the truth!” shouts Marine colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in the 1992 movie, “A Few Good Men.” The outburst comes when Navy lieutenant Dan Kaffe (Tom Cruise) presses the colonel to reveal sordid facts that are crucial to a case.

Whenever I think about acceptance, that scene comes back to me. Because some truths are hard to accept. And yet we must accept them if we are to deal with them.

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The well-known “Serenity Prayer” was adapted by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1942 from a sermon by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Acceptance is a crucial step to dealing with alcoholism. Only after people accept that they have an addiction can they overcome it. And yet, it’s a terrible thing to admit. Alcoholics deny their addiction and its effect on others so they don’t have to make the hard changes.

A good friend of mine once had a serious drinking problem. When drunk, he abused his wife and family. He started drinking early in the day and was no longer effective in his business. His wife was about to divorce him, and his partners were on the verge of leaving his company when as a group they decided to confront him. They told him that if he didn’t get help they wouldn’t stay with him.

It was a huge wake-up call. They presented him with reality, and he accepted it.

He went through several weeks of treatment, and he hasn’t had a drink for more than fifteen years. He’s a great friend, a loving husband and father, and a hardworking professional in his community. He still goes to AA meetings twice a week and recites the prayer. His life is a wonderful success story. He turned tragedy into triumph, and it began with acceptance.

Accept the awful truth, and it will stop haunting you.

The opposite of acceptance is denial.

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes grief as a five-stage process. Her premise is that acceptance is necessary for a healthy, life-affirming approach to dying. According to her, the journey begins with denial and ends in acceptance. The intermediate stages are anger, bargaining and depression. Some people take longer than others to achieve acceptance, and some never make it.

Of course dying and death are probably the toughest aspects of life to accept. But any unwanted situation can be hard to accept. The more unpleasant it is, the bigger the loss, the harder it can be to accept. Our reaction might be some variation of, “This can’t be happening to me.” We may have to work through denial, anger, bargaining and depression, but the sooner we can accept the facts, the sooner we can do something about them.

In 1994 my company introduced an innovative multi-source feedback system called 20/20 Insight. It was used by over a million people in virtually every kind of organization around the world, and it’s still in use today. In the spirit of “walking our talk,” we decided to use it in our own company to give each other feedback.

It was an enlightening process. We learned some new things about our product, and we learned some important things about ourselves. According to the feedback I received from my partners and employees, my lowest-rated performance area was “listening.” In a meeting, they affirmed this result.

To be honest, I was shocked. I was a trained listener. I had studied the best books about listening. I had trained countless managers myself and had written all our content on listening. I had been consciously practicing active listening for 20 years. My first thought was, “What they’re saying can’t be valid.” I was in denial.

However, I’m a realistic person, and I prefer to accept the way things are as quickly as possible. But I must say, I felt a little bit of anger, bargaining and depression before I finally acknowledged that I needed to work on being a better listener. I took their feedback seriously and made a dedicated effort to practice in my behavior what I knew in my head. After months of effort and a couple more rounds of feedback, I ultimately succeeded.

I’m a much better listener now.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is an important post, Denny. For a long time, I fought everything. I am still working on acceptance.

Acceptance is really hard oftentimes, but necessary.