The first time I heard this phrase was from a wise and dear friend who has recently passed away. We were coworkers at the time, and I came to her with an issue, something I was angry about “cuz I be’n dun wrong!”
After listening for a while and waiting for me to slow down my tirade, she calmly said, “it is what it is.” I stared at her wondering if she had heard me correctly. Surely, she didn’t understand the serious nature of my problem. Her calm expression and direct eye contact told me she had heard me, so I left her office even angrier than when I came in! I was offended. Why hadn’t she climbed into my story with me? Why hadn’t she agreed with me, beating her metaphorical fist on the table with me? She didn’t agree or disagree, she just …what? I didn’t understand.
Years later, I understand the saying more clearly, and have it posted on my refrigerator and my desk. However, I do believe the “when” and “how” for using the phrase needs careful consideration. Its use is situation- and person-dependent. It is not used to minimize, invalidate or be insensitive to others. Be aware of your motives before using it.
Truly listening to another soul with kindness and empathy is a gift to those who are hurting, sad, angry or feeling alone. That is not the time to say “it is what it is,” that is the time to be fully present and willing to open your heart.
However, how often are our grievances and rants just a useless waste of energy? How many minutes, hours or days of our lives are we willing to spend in the state of beating our fist on the table? I often find myself frustrated over something or someone that isn’t the way I think it or they should be. I can make a pretty good argument (usually in my head) about why it or they shouldn’t be that way. I call this process my “9 out of 10 sidewalk poll” – meaning that after hearing my story, 9 out of 10 people on the street would agree with me.
But, guess what? It doesn’t matter if I think I’m right: the thing, situation or person still “is what it is”. I learned this lesson from another friend I was complaining to (I’m sensing a pattern). After listening she said, “You know what the rub is? You are probably right. But it doesn’t matter.” Once again, I was confused and deflated. It didn’t matter I was right? Of course it mattered! However, it really didn’t.
There are so many things in our lives we have no control over, but there are many things we do, such as our attitude and mindset. I need to stop being a victim of life, change the things I can, and the rest … well, it is what it is.
“Living & Growing” is a reoccurring column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.