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What Super Bowl 51 Taught Us

By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

Superbowl 51 is officially in the books as the greatest comeback in NFL history; and while many people were focused on the field, the rest of us were drawn into the commercials.  There was a definite theme to this year’s marketing in between plays.  Equality, diversity, and inclusion took center stage throughout America’s most watched game.  As our country struggles to maintain unity, the advertisers took this opportunity to highlight messages of encouragement and remind us we each belong and are valuable members of a whole.  While most of the evening I thought about the truth in that theme, I also wondered if we, as a society, could do more to help others understand what that message looks like in practice.  

How do you accept another person for who they are, even when they are different from you?  What does it look like to illustrate to someone that you find them valuable, even when you disagree with their views?  How can you stay true to your own convictions without trampling on others’ rights to their own opinion?

These aren’t easy questions, but important ones.  I wish I had a nicely put together list of “how to’s” when it comes to acceptance, but unfortunately, I do not.  What I can say is, where you allow your mind to spend time is where your emotions will pull you and your actions will follow.  If you are always on the lookout for things that are “wrong” you are unlikely to notice the things that are “right”.  You’ll find reasons to support your negative emotions and use this as fuel to keep the negativity going, and in the end, you will find yourself further and further from acceptance.  You’ll likely exclude anyone and anything that represents things you see as “wrong” preventing inclusion, and diversity will be limited only to those who are like you or share your views.  In short, you’ll be comfortable but not necessarily happy or fulfilled.

Those of us who seek fulfillment over comfort know we have to push our limits and step outside of that easy space, into something riskier.  We have to challenge ourselves and our reactions to finding a truth which supports our long-term goal of acceptance.  While it may feel difficult to imagine embracing someone who is very different from you, it also provides a freedom you can not duplicate.  When you allow someone to be different, it frees you to be who you are as well.  Offering compassion to those around you also lets you offer and accept compassion for yourself.

This means not letting your head get stuck in negative thinking, actively looking for the positives around you (and in others), setting an intention of showing kindness and compassion to others; and you have to remind yourself of this every hour of every day.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to have boundaries of your own or you shouldn’t protect yourself from harm someone else may try to inflict.  Not only is maintaining your own boundaries your right, but it is your responsibility.  How else could you be fully engaged with another human being?  You have to feel safe enough to engage with them, only then can you offer authentic acceptance.

This practice of acceptance is not simple, nor will you be perfect at it.  It’s just what I said–practice.  Every day you get another chance; every encounter is another opportunity to be the inclusive and accepting person you want to be (even to those whom you adamantly disagree with).   Remember, acceptance is not about changing someone’s mind or backing down from your values–it is the acknowledgment that you can validate them and their stance as their own…nothing more.  Validation is not agreement, nor is acceptance, but rather it is the act of saying “I understand where you are coming from and I value you as a human being.”   If your efforts are met with hurtful statements or disrespect for your own position, you can choose to walk away from the exchange with the knowledge that you offered kindness and compassion.
When we feel overwhelmed by divisive rhetoric, or inundated with hateful acts, we must look within ourselves at who we want to be in response.  We all hold the capacity for love and growth within ourselves and it is our duty to exercise those qualities–even when it is difficult…that is acceptance and commitment to inclusive equality.

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