Know the Difference Between Accepting and Agreeing

By on Jul 07, 2015

The best thing that ever was said about me came from my brother. After we had a long discussion about sex or abortion or something I don’t even remember now, he said, “Dude, you have no taboos.” This was a supreme compliment because basically he was saying that theoretically he could share anything with me. Nothing could be said that would cause me to close my ears, get morally indignant or start attacking him.

Coming together is the cornerstone of good relationships, and nothing inhibits that like self-censorship. Instead of sharing, of coming together, when we censor we are hiding who we really are and growing apart. Hiding our true thoughts and beliefs is pernicious, and it starts with the feeling that we won’t be accepted because of our thoughts and beliefs. So accepting people is crucial. Accept everything.

Most of us love ourselves deep down, and a big part of that is because we accept ourselves. We may not like that we cut someone off on the interstate or that we are having an affair with a coworker, but we accept it. We live with it. We may not like that we sometimes truly enjoy the thought of our boss dying, or that we are thinking seriously about ending our marriage, but consciously or unconsciously we usually accept it. We accept it even if we don’t like it, even if we know it is wrong. Rare is the person who actually keeps secrets from himself.

Getting close to someone means accepting that person’s thoughts and actions, too. One of the best ways to come together as one is to stop limiting what can be shared, and that only happens when nothing is out of bounds. There can be no taboos, no wrong thoughts.

There can be differences of opinion, though. There can be bad ideas, there can be morally wrong behavior. Accepting is not the same thing as agreeing. This point is worth repeating: You can accept that your friend is cheating on her husband without agreeing that infidelity is the right decision. You can accept that your nephew smokes marijuana without sharing his passion for the substance or believing it is harmless. The person himself might not truly believe his actions are good, but he accepts them. So should you. So must you accept a person to get really close and love deeply.

Accepting sometimes can be hard, but the alternative is worse: secrets. Your grandmother doesn’t know your deepest secrets and probably doesn’t know the real you because you don’t share your life with Grandma. She wouldn’t accept it, so you don’t tell her. You sanitize. You hide parts of the truth. This may unfortunately be the right course if your grandmother won’t accept you are gay, or that you actually aren’t Christian, but it is a shame because your grandmother also isn’t knowing you very well. She isn’t connecting with you deeply.

There are many things I hear from people that I disagree with strongly. It happens every day, in almost every conversation. But the warmth between me and that person isn’t hurt because of it. We still connect. I still love them. Maybe my faith in the intelligence of the species is knocked occasionally, but not my love for the person, not my ability to relate and hear the whole truth. This brings me closer to the person, and it is a good part of why we say that lovers come and go, but a good friend is forever. A good friend hears it all and accepts it all. Without precondition.

So should you with your deepest relationships.

For help putting this technique into practice, contact us for individual relationship coaching.


Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.