LIFE, IT IS WHAT IT IS – or IS IT?
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly without fear for newer and richer experience.
It is what it is is a fascinating phrase. I often hear it invoked in conversation, casual and serious. I’ve used it – and until recently didn’t think much about its lack of utility as a worthwhile, or succinct, expression. It’s a cliché which seems to work whenever it’s employed. For some inexplicable reason, however, I recently heard it differently and the impact weighed on my consciousness. I found myself mulling it over, analyzing, and assessing its true meaning. I was astonished both by its banality and what it implies.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, contains four definitions for the pronoun it. Several are compelling:
“…1: that one – used as subject or direct object or indirect object of a verb or object of a preposition usu. in reference to a lifeless thing… 2 – used a subject of an impersonal verb that expresses a condition or action without reference to an agent…3…b used with many verbs as a direct object with little or no meaning…” [Emphasis added.]
It is what it is is a repugnant statement of indifference and acquiescence. It is, in essence, a lame excuse. It says, equally as inexplicitly, ‘Addressing this situation, whatever it is, requires more effort than I am willing to expend.’ It’s an admission of fear and signals an unreasonable, irrational refusal to confront something distasteful, ugly, or uncomfortable. This nasty, insidious, and lamentable pseudo-adage reveals a potent effect on attitudes. We’ve all been solemnly advised, if not frequently cautioned, about how our philosophical approach to life affects outcomes: ‘your attitude determines your altitude.’ Each time we react, rather than respond, to something, or anything, which unsettles our sense of self, or invades our comfort zones, we take a precipitous drop in personal procerity.
The sentiment embodied in the phrase it is what it is is one of finality. It insinuates nothing can, or should, be done – which is often patently untrue. For those who need the no-option category, it is what it is offers the sanctimonious I told you so validation, the self-satisfying remonstration: you should have listened to me. It is what it is infers a reality which does not exist because nothing has, or will, ever change.
It is what it is says there’s no need to carve out a position, adopt a stance, or exert any energy because it would be for naught. This empty, meaningless, and simple statement confers tacit acceptance – with a caveat: leave well enough alone! It’s a self-defeating and cunning form of self-loathing. It is what it is says the status quo, no matter how useless, is okay because there’s nothing better. It screams ‘I’m afraid: to think, ask why, object, demand an explanation or acknowledge my feelings.’ And it feebly attempts to nullify the opening quote. Overcoming seemingly insurmountable stumbling blocks requires repudiation of it is what it is with a well thought out approach.
Life gives back to us what we put into it. Copping out, caving in, giving up – all these stances represent the proverbial chickens who eventually come home to roost. They become the coulda, woulda, shoulda trio, also known as regret. They are painful, sometimes humiliating reminders of choices rejected or declined, possibilities deliberately overlooked, and opportunities missed. It is what it is says there are no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Except that there are – and shrugging off the responsibility for personal decision-making can mean the difference between moving forward or standing still.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken
Life is a gift. It can be scary, overwhelming, rich, rewarding, satisfying, difficult at times, but always fair. And, it’s meant to be lived, pondered, appreciated, and put to good use. Life was never intended to be cast aside, treated like a spectator sport, or replaced with a safe existence. Not a single hour was created only to be blown off, kicked to the curb, and dismissed. Life, it is what it is, or is it?