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How “Acceptance” Works in Emotional Intelligence

© Steve Whiteford 2021

“Acceptance” can be a difficult concept. It comes up in spiritual study a lot, and though not always directly presented in Emotional Intelligence, it is essential to the skill.

It seems to imply passivity and compliance. “So I’m not supposed to have a response or take action when I don’t like what happening?”

“No, that’s not quite what it means…‘Opening to’ what’s happening could be a better definition.”

“Opening to?!” That’s crazy. Why would I open to something I don’t like or don’t want to happen?”

Great question.

I was fascinated by a news report back in 2018 about a shooting incident at Trader Joe’s in my old neighborhood in Los Angeles. The shooter had threatened the patrons and employees to get down and stay down on the floor. The police were outside the building and had already wounded the shooter.

Great question.

A woman a few feet from him noticed that he was bleeding profusely and would probably soon pass out. She had some training in crises, and also had empathy for his situation. He was trapped and could be dying. She offered him her shirt to use to tie off the bleeding wound. He accepted and used it. This created an opening for her to talk with him, and she very carefully assisted him and was able to engage and influence him. He moved from ready to shoot anyone who moved to more carefully considering his situation. She soon served as his liaison with the police.

If MaryLinda Moss had not been open to the situation, had not been curious and empathetic, had not been brave, she may have just laid on the floor in fear and checked out. The situation would probably have had a very different ending. She concluded that during the episode it seemed she was the most present she had ever been in her life.

This is an extreme example. Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. Try this:

After developing your awareness of feelings, the next vital step of emotional intelligence is accepting them. Opening to the feeling, which means experiencing it – noticing the bodily sensations, and what you’re thinking or saying to yourself. Next, label the feeling. “I’m distressed.”

This is being curious and self-empathetic and becoming your own liaison with whatever may have caused the feeling. Look for what is workable. Note: “experiencing” does not mean wallowing in the feeling. When you don’t give feelings some time to process, they tend to linger or inspire covert behavior.

This openness to what is occurring – acceptance – also simplifies many situations by adding emotional intelligence. Sometimes I think we have all been subliminally programmed to “Want it our way.” No thanks to a successful burger campaign.

Consider how often a co-worker’s mood, the announcement of an organizational change, bad traffic, the absence of a favorite product at the grocery store, closes us down and puts us in a bad mood. Add just a shot of acceptance, openness, curiosity, and self/other empathy and we find simple solutions pop up to save us and others a whole lot of grief.

In the case cited above, it saved a whole lot of lives.

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