There is one expression I always remember being uncomfortable with hearing:
“it is what it is“.
So I decided to sit down and figure out why it flusters me so much.
“It is what it is“
Now, I suppose in the most literal sense, it’s a statement that just can’t be argued with. I mean, let’s say “it” is “blue”. If it is blue, it is blue. Obviously. So, in such a case, it is what it is is about as accurate as you can get. My problem with the expression is that it’s never used in that way. If something unfair, unjust, or just plain stupid is taking place in front of you, there’s always that boss or friend or someone assuring you that “it is what it is”- accompanied by a shrug of powerlessness.
I associate the expression with an attitude of giving up and settling for less. It appears to be an excuse for accepting the unacceptable; a cowardice to make a difference. Its choosing to be powerless. True, if something turns out a certain way, it turned out a certain way- it is what it is. There’s no point in crying over spilled milk. However, shouldn’t we look into why the milk was spilled, so that we don’t spill it again? If something isn’t right, we shouldn’t just accept that it isn’t right. Shouldn’t we acknowledge injustice was done, and figure out how to keep it from happening again? Shouldn’t we call out inefficiencies and seek to replace them with efficiency?
It is what it is, but is it what it should be? Is there something we can do to change that, even if only for the future? Whenever someone says “it is what is” I think in the back of my head, “but does it really have to be?” I wonder why nobody (including myself) is mentioning obvious flaws that need to be addressed; after all, if they were addressed, it would not be what it is.
I realize to challenge the expression could, under most circumstances, make things much more difficult than most people would like. I could lose a job or jeopardize someone else’s, I could gamble with another’s well being, I could make a passing situation much more complicated. Egos could be hurt, authority may feel defied, the comfort of routine could be threatened . Ironically, this seems to suggest that the fearless confidence usually backing the phrase is nothing more than a facade. So really, people tend to use the phrase because they are afraid of what could happen if we question things.
That leads me to say this: “it is what it is” is really just a cowardly way of saying “I’m a coward”.
Why can’t we make it a habit to say “this is what it is, but what can it be?” Accepting the current circumstances, yet seeking to improve. To say “it is what it is” is to deny that we can effect happenings in the world around us, or that anything matters enough to try. Sometimes we are restricted by circumstances, there are things that we just can’t control… there are “its” that can’t be changed. But there are often things that touch the things we can’t control, and if we can access them, eventually we will leave a mark. How about people like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr….they could have said “it is what it is” because challenging anything would stir up too much trouble with no guarantee of immediate results. That would have been just lovely.
I’m not saying we all need to be revolutionary rebels over every little thing we’re not satisfied with. But no matter what scale of issue is at hand, to me, “it is what it is” reflects a lack of determination, a dormancy of conviction.
But… it is what it is. People tend to settle for whats thrown at them, so we have to make the best of it. Or is there something that can be done to change that?
Whether we can directly influence the outcome of a situation, or if we are facing a circumstance that refuses to be manipulated…
It is whatever you allow it to be.