Words That Change

“It is what it is”

In diary on 8 June, 2012 at 11:37

… but is it?


I’ve seen this phrase – “it is what it is” – with increasing frequency. First on The Wire TV show, cops and gangsters signed acceptance of grim situations with saintly consent. Most recently on The Voice – a music show that selects outstanding singers (I became unapologetically addicted, at moments it was beautiful) – a semi-finalist Cassius consented similarly to his being voted off by the viewers. ‘It is what it is’ encapsulated his disappointment and threw it into the bushes. He was free and still open to possibility. It could not trouble him after that.

A friend used the same phrase twice in a recent conversation in a manner I found unconvincing. The saint-like balm can also be a concealer of wounds. This was the ending of ten-year relationship, so the friend has deeper reasons to grieve than Cassius and it is perhaps right that he should do so.

I’ve heard a story that was told by Osho, a wonderful teacher of the last century, of a king frightened for the loss of his kingdom. He asked for a phrase that would help him in his hour of dying need. One of his wise men suggested a phrase and this was written on a piece of paper and fastened underneath a diamond that was set in a ring and placed on the king’s finger.

Sure enough 15 days later, the king was invaded by a neighbouring country and defeated. Fleeing the enemy he turned to his ring, unfastened the diamond and found the note which read –

This too shall pass

He instantly relaxed found a ditch to hide in and the enemy lost track of him. He raised an army and won his kingdom back. Riding back into his capital in celebration he was filled with pride at what he had achieved, what he had managed to pull off. As this pride was rising he spotted the old man in the crowd, the one who had written the phrase for him. He looked down at his ring and remembered the phrase –

This too shall pass

He instantly relaxed. The pride dissipated and he was able to rule his kingdom quietly and humbly knowing it was precious because it too would fade away, as futile as the breeze and just as powerful.

‘This too shall pass’ is a balm that ‘It is what it is’ points to, as long as the latter clarifies and does not cover situations of extreme discomfort.


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