“It is what it is”?

This is a linguistic peeve, but it’s not
"pet."

People I know use this expression all the time. I may have once or twice myself. Some of those people I love, others I’m indifferent to, but the expression itself has become repellent.

 
I don’t know where, when, or why the expression "It
is what it is"
started, but for the last couple of years it’s just about all
I’ve heard from men and women (cats and dogs are exempt) who find themselves or someone else in a situation that
is either difficult or downright unacceptable. It is usually accompanied
by a verbal or physical shrug, as if to say "I can’t change it."  Or, like
the Viscomte Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuse, it becomes a destructive and
responsibility-denying phrase like Valmont’s repeated and ugly "It’s beyond my control."
 
"It is what it is" actually is the perversion of a
Recovery tenet, the virtue of and necessity for Acceptance.  The idea is that in order to handle what you’re up against, the true nature of your situation at any given
moment, you have to own it.  Denial won’t work. Acceptance has to happen. That indeed is the Is that has to be faced.  Not shrugged at.  Faced.
 
But that does not mean you cannot change the situation.  Simply that in order to change something you have to know what
it is you need to change.
 
But the tonality of "It is what it is" suggests that
you cannot change anything, so why try? The beginning of Step work in AA–Step 1, in fact–is to admit total defeat: you are powerless over the liquor has brought you to your knees, and you are powerless at that beginning moment over most things, your life is unmanageable. But that is not the same thing as the rampant closed-door defeatism of "It is what it is."  Acceptance of a wretched situation carries in it the hope for change. It is an invitation to rebuild. If
it were defeatism alone, everyone would have just drunk themselves to death
assuming that they were at the end. We’d all have become like Don Birnam, the
"hero" of The Lost Weekend, who crawls into bed with a bottle of whiskey to end
it all. Or we’d do what John Berryman, the poet, did after his last shaming "slip": jump off a
bridge.
 
The substratum of "It is what it is" is relief from
responsibility. "I don’t have to fix anything, I can’t fix anything
including my own life, It is what it is. So I’ll just stop at the Powerless part."
 
So we shift from this underdone version of
acceptance into a far more pointed abnegation of responsibility, of action, of
perhaps risking defeat and more pain in the name of ameliorating an unacceptable
situation.

Yes: it is what it is, but that might be only the half. Very often the situation, once admitted, often is precisely what it
should not be
, and the individual, knowing this, has a responsibility to defy and to fight
back.

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