Monday, January 12, 2009
In his homily at the 10:30am Mass yesterday our Pastor at St. Christopher's Church in Somerton said that he hated the phrase "It is what it is." When the words came out of his mouth they hit close to home because I use that phrase all the time.
But as he went on to explain his opposition to the sudden popular usage of this phrase, I came to realize that there has obviously been a misunderstanding in either his interpretation or the use by some of the phrase.
Father Joe was making the point that the phrase lent itself to our having to accept certain situations, when in fact those situations were indeed subject to change, if we just wanted it bad enough and worked towards such change.
For instance, the statement "I am an alcoholic, and that isn't going to change. It is what it is." Now we all know that the alcoholic can indeed make a change in his or her life. Buying that bottle is a choice. Drinking the bottle is another choice.
Change our choices, we change our lives. Under these types of conditions "It is what it is" just doesn't hold water, and that is what Father Joe was pointing out. No one says it will be easy, but we can accomplish change if we really want it bad enough and are willing to dedicate ourselves to it.
However, anyone who would use the phrase in that manner would, in my opinion, be using it improperly as a cop out or a crutch. That is not the proper use of the phrase, and when examined in its proper usage even Father Joe should change his opinion and embrace the phrase.
When I use the phrase, I take it as a modern shortening of the old idea "Don't cry over spilt milk."
The phrase "It is what it is" is meant to address events, activities, situations that have occurred in the past, whether a decade ago, a year ago, yesterday, or even just a moment ago. It is about getting past situations that in fact we simply cannot change.
Dinner is about to be served. The food is on the table. The only bottle of juice is carried towards the table, but is dropped before reaching the family. The bottle shatters, and all of the juice spills out onto the floor. There is no more juice, and aside from tap water there is nothing else to drink in the house.
Here is what will happen: you will clean up the mess, and move on to dinner. Folks will make due with water, or they will have nothing to drink. It is what it is. Period.
Now some would say that you could run out to the store to get more. Ridiculous. Dinner is served, the food is warm on the table, the family is ready to eat. In the vast majority of cases, going to the store is going to require time way from the meal that you just don't have on a practical level. You move on without crying or whining about something that is in the past and that you cannot change. It is what it is.
You are a New York Giants fan this morning. The Philadelphia Eagles have just knocked your team out of the playoffs despite the fact that you were the defending Super Bowl champions. The Eagles won the NFC playoff game 23-11 after your Giants had the best regular season record in the league.
You can cry. You can curse. You can call for the head of the coach. But the fact is that the Giants lost. You have to live with it. You're not going to kill yourself. You're not going to quit your job and become a hermit. It is what it is.
That is the true nature of the statement. It is a positive, not a negative. It is not meant to be a cop out, it is meant as a rallying cry for folks not to let a situation beyond their control, or a situation that is over and cannot be reversed, knock them down and keep them down.
"It is what it is" means deal with it, get over it, learn from it perhaps, and move on from it.
I believe that Father Joe is wrong to hate the statement, although I give him props for hating the attitude that allows someone to wallow in a misery that may often be of their own creation, and that they can indeed change if they want it bad enough.