Review of Daniel A. Miller's The Gifts of Acceptance: Embracing People and Things as They Are
One of the most enlightening references In Daniel A. Miller's The Gifts of Acceptance: Embracing People and Things as They Are is his citing of Reinhold Niebuhr The Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
This just about sums up the principle premise of this excellent tome that explores the benefits of accepting “what is” about people, places, and things as opposed to what you would like them to be. As Miller points out throughout the book, acceptance does not mean that one has to like, condone, agree with them or give up your own beliefs, but only to accept its underlying reality.
The turning point in Miller's life was when he realized that the best way to satisfy his needs and achieve what he wanted in life was to discontinue on the path he was accustomed to by controlling everything and everyone. He constantly directed, pressed and persisted in trying to change others and believed that his way was the right way and the only way. As he informs us, deep down he was constantly enmeshed in worries, anxieties, and deep fears, which is a sure prescription for unhappiness. The catalyst for his realization of the profound benefits of acceptance was his suffering through a rapid series of traumatic events that occurred thirty-five years ago that shook him to the core. It was only then that he came to terms with accepting the folly of his control-driven life. Miller points out that regardless if you are dealing with loved ones, children, parents, siblings and family, friends, co-workers, foes, limitations, infirmities, losses of aging, setbacks and failures, confronting life's up and downs becomes much easier if you practice acceptance.
Every chapter of the book is aligned with specific situations and obstacles a person may face. Strategies and tools are provided to help readers overcome these different challenges. For example, the chapter dealing with accepting our loved ones where we may not agree with some of their choices be it political or social is extremely helpful in to-days toxic political climate.
We all are well aware how this can spiral down into damaging arguments or even parting ways. As mentioned, what we must remember is that our loved ones are individuals with their own feelings and leanings. Although, we may not agree with them, we must try to accept and love them for who they are and not who we want them to be. When we do not accept their right to have their own views and preferences, even if we loathe these, we communicate that they are not wise or informed enough that their values are suspect. As Miller states: “are we not sending signals to them in our actions, gestures, and words that are meant to reconfigure them into another person?” Moreover, as Miller emphasizes: “acceptance does not mean that we condone or agree with your love one's views and choices. Rather, it means you accept their right to have them without judgment or resentment.”
Prefacing each chapter is an epigraph that is attributed to a mixed bag of writers, thinkers and others which sets the tone for the theme of the chapter. For example, the chapter dealing with our children begins with: “Parents. If you reach us only to be like you, then how do you expect us to live in the future?” Incidentally, this was a quote taken from a 6th grade student's graduation speech. In the chapter dealing with accepting our siblings and family, Miller quotes the American humorist Sam Levenson when he stated: “Siblings: Children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal, until they get together.”
Inspirational stories are shared throughout the book concerning regular folks whom Miller met through life transformation forums, personal recovery workshops, speaking engagements, and his own personal blog where he shared some of his findings he learned pertaining to the acceptance dynamic and how to effectively practice it. Apparently, reader response to his blog has been strong and immediate and it became clear to him that the acceptance paradigm resonated strongly with people from all walks of life.
In his closing remarks, Miller encourages his readers to envision, reflect, meditate, and write about what acceptance may be and how it might make us feel. Then start doing them, but do them without expectations. As he asserts: “Be open-minded, address any negative feelings or discomfort that arises, and let go of the need to control the outcome.” It is never too late to change your life and you are not stuck permanently in the life you have now. The challenge is to take the first step and adopt some or all of the tools Miller provides in his book.