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It Is What It Is: How This Phrase Is Actually Harming You

It Is What It Is – Seriously?

Voted USA Today’s No. 1 cliché of 2004, “it is what it is” might be one of your biggest pet peeves when it comes to a typical response to any event.

Didn’t get into the college you wanted? It is what it is.

The guy you were super into stood you up? It is what it is.

Your undeserving coworker got a raise while simultaneously cutting your hours? It is what it is.

Really? It seems like people are becoming more and more comfortable with things being a bit, “meh.”

Where it All Started

Many people remember the phrase “it is what it is” being more of a state of ambiguity, or a way to agree with a seemingly vague idea that you couldn’t exactly put your finger on what it all meant, or when there is no objective answer to the question.

As an example, say you’re telling a story and in your story, you walk past a tree, a red car, and a dog. In this overly simplistic example, a tree is a tree. It may be an oak tree or a pine tree, you don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter regarding the story you’re telling. A tree is a tree. It is what it is.

However, the expression has now taken on a very different meaning. While sometimes tossing around “it is what it is” seems to be a bit nonsensical or a form of agreement, other times it can feel very dismissive.

It Is What It Is – What You’re Really Saying

So what are most people actually saying when they dismissively use the phrase, ‘it is what it is?”

“This situation blows. I’m incredibly unhappy, but I don’t want to vocalize or deal with my misery.”

“It is what it is” is used as a way of acknowledging that something isn’t meeting your standards or ultimately what you want, but you’re finding a way to accept and be okay with the disappointment. It may even be a way of rationalizing self-sabotage.

Another way that you may have heard the phrase used is when it’s being said out of some strange form of empathy.

Surely dad doesn’t mean to sound heartless when you run to him in tears over not getting the grade you worked tirelessly for. When he says, “it is what it is”, what he’s probably trying to do is say that there’s not much that can be done about the situation now, so there’s no sense in continuing to beat yourself up over it.

But is there really nothing that can be done? Is this “meh” phrase transforming into an easy way out of dealing with important matters because we just don’t feel like it?

When “It Is What It is” Can be Helpful

There are two situations in which using the phrase “it is what it is” can be helpful:

  1. When it’s not an emotional situation for either party involved
  2. When the person using the phrase is speaking about their own situation and has an appropriate amount of time to process their feelings and is ready to move on from the experience

How “It Is What It Is” Can be Detrimental

Conversely, there are a number of ways that the phrase can actually be detrimental to yourself and to those around you.

As we previously mentioned, using “it is what it is” can come off as being extremely dismissive of one’s feelings. It’s really as if the individual is saying “stop complaining and get over it because nothing is going to change. You constantly talking about it is getting annoying.”

While there are times that there is truth in the rather harsh translation above, people need time to process rejection and pain. Most people (if not all people) do not need someone else telling them to hurry up and get over the hurt they are experiencing.

At one point or another, we all need to be able to complain or vent about things, whether trivial or serious. Having an empathetic ear as well as being that empathetic ear is an important part of life and being a good friend. Chances are, if someone wants to vent about something, a quick “it is what it is” isn’t going to fulfill that need.

Thinking Twice About Simple Phrases

A tautology is defined as a way to say the same thing twice but in different words. A familiar tautology is “boys will be boys” or “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

However, in 2018 we need to be on high alert when it comes to just how detrimental these seemingly simple phrases can be.

Boys will be boys, right? No. Wrong. Boys will be held accountable for their actions. Just because a child was born with certain anatomy does not give him or his parents the right to blame ridiculous behavior on the fact that he is a boy.

“Boys will be boys” isn’t going to pay for a store owner to replace a table of now shattered glass on the floor and it shouldn’t get a “boy” off the hook for sexual assault. Again, it’s 2018 and these things are happening a horrifically alarming rate. A simple, silly phrase cannot be grounds for explaining such behavior.

Additionally, “it is what is it” has to stop.

“It is what it is” is no longer a way to agree for conversation’s sake objectively. It is now a way to accept less than we want or deserve.

Why are we becoming so quick not to fix so many things that could be changed?

We are living in a time where our voices so desperately need to be heard. We cannot be dismissive of our own wants and desires. “It is what is it” is a cop-out. It’s not proactive and it will not lead to living a healthy, productive life.

History CANNOT Repeat Itself

We need to stop the cycle.

When people use “it is what it is” they are suggesting that something has already been done and there’s no way to change it. So does that mean all the tragedies over the last 100 years are also ‘it is what it is’ situations? Absolutely not.

We learn from our past. Sure, you may not able to redo your college essay and get into the school of your dreams this year. However, you can meet with the administrators, get everything in order, and resubmit as a transfer student. (Side note – that’s what I did and I graduated from my #1 school, so I can vouch that it works).

On a much larger scale, we cannot go back in time and prevent terrible events like war and genocide from happening. We cannot go back in time and stop the Florida shooting that took 17 innocent lives from happening. Do we say ‘it is what it is’ and move on because we can’t correct history?

NO. We MUST learn. We must do better. For ourselves and for our future generations.

A silly phrase may be just that to some, but if it and when it becomes a way of life, we will all be in serious trouble.






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