Jessica Sieff: The problem with ‘it is what it is’Published 8:17am Thursday, March 28, 2013
The week prior to the Passover holiday always puts me in a state of introspection. Each year I take time to go through the story, read what scholars and others have to say about what it means to them and think about what it means to me.
You don’t have to be Jewish; the story of Passover is an important story. There’s a reason those scholars and sages have studied it for centuries.
It’s about the beginning of a very long journey. It’s about a man, it’s about a people. It’s about knowing where you’re going and where you’ve been.
This year, one particular theme stuck out at me. I don’t know about the rest of you but lately I can’t even keep count of how many times I hear the phrase “it is what it is” before I even finish my morning coffee. And I am not exaggerating when I say (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little) that every time I hear someone say, “It is what it is” … a little piece of me dies.
I don’t know how this phrase caught on but its meaning is deceptive and becoming increasingly dangerous.
The Passover story includes the theme of asking questions. Moses would be forced to question the life he’d known when he found out it was not what he thought it to be. The Jewish people no doubt questioned their future while in slavery. But each learned by questioning.
Asking questions is one of the most powerful acts of the human condition.
And we’re forgetting to do it.
A task or a process at work is clunky and inefficient. “Yeah, but it is what it is.” A small business struggles through debilitating economic times. “What can you do? It is what it is.”
The phrase is said as if it were the period at the end of a sentence. The idea is we can’t change what we can’t control so why worry about it. But who is to say what we can and cannot change? This is not just a catchphrase anymore. It’s chronic complacency.
What if this is how we answered the bigger issues facing society? Countless children and adults face critical health problems under the weight of an obesity epidemic. “It is what it is.”
The kids in our schools can’t get a fair shot at a decent education. Say it with me.
Questioning that which is before us is not a sign of weakness but the first step in a journey of learning. The story of every greatest accomplishment could start with a single question.
“Everyone has their Egypt. You’ve got to know who you are and what are your limitations. But heaven forbid to make peace with them. The soul within you knows no limits.” Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
If you’re like me and you hear that phrase a lot, the next time you hear it, I ask you to ask yourself:
“What if it isn’t?” See where that takes you.