Dave Berman asks "How do you reconcile acceptance of what is with a drive to make the world a better place?"
You've asked a question which is big enough to support a thesis length explanation. But let's not put off the tough questions and jump into this one with both feet!
Like most really tough questions, the answer is surprisingly simple but understanding the foundation of the answer can be complex. Thus in order to accept the answer we must first explore the full breadth of your question.
The first part of your question deals with acceptance. You phrased it in an eloquent way in saying, "accepting what is."
As simple as this sounds, this is incredibly difficult for us to do. In order to fully grasp the power of acceptance, we must come face to face with the grim reality of the potential horrors of humanity. When we can look into the eyes of someone who has suffered the worse crimes against humanity and offer them a path to acceptance, then we have fully embraced acceptance. For those that has suffered torture, rape and murder, there is an incredible shift that must occur before they can find acceptance.
FIRST STEP: FORGIVENESS
The first step to acceptance comes through forgiveness. We often think of forgiveness as something that we do for the other person, but it is actually something that we do for ourselves. We can best understand this in situations where we have not forgiven someone. Upon closely looking at the reality of the situation, we find that the other person has moved on and is no longer troubled by the incident. In fact, many times they have convinced themselves to forget the incident all together and truly walk the earth with a clear conscious.
And as much as this troubles us, it pails in comparison to the pain, anger and hatred that we carry around in our hearts when we refuse to, or have convinced ourselves that we cannot, forgive. The victim wakes every morning with anguish in their heart and relives the horror of their past each night when their head rests on the pillow. No amount of mental or logical discourse can dislodge the pain they carry around in their hearts every second of the day.
And so it is the victim that suffers without forgiveness. It is their heart that releases pain when they forgive.
It is important to distinguish between forgiveness and forgetting. One does not have to forget in order to forgive. In fact, as a species we adapt because we can remember painful situations so that we can avoid them in the future. This ability to avoid pain, the second time, extends to our friends and family as we protect them from experiencing our personal tragedies. And so by forgiving, we retain the memory of our past, but release the emotional pain that we carry around.
SECOND STEP: PEACE
The second step to acceptance comes through peace. By grasping the reality of our situation without distorting the truth to fit our view of the world, we approach the world "as it is" instead of "how we pretend it is." Please note that this is not "how it was" or "how it will be." By accepting reality in the present moment, we understand the truth of now. And by approaching the reality of the situation through our own eyes and devoid of judgment, we can see the situation with fresh eyes. In the reality of the present moment, we can see clearly without fooling ourselves. As my favorite yoga teacher say's, "We can learn to be comfortable in discomfort."
For example, when I first joined Facebook I extended friend requests to everyone I went to high school and college with. Twenty years after those college years, here is the response I got back from someone I knew in college:
Have to admit I wasn't quite sure whether to accept your invitation; had good memories of you when we worked together, but was split by less pleasant ones of your big steroid-inflated buddy head-butting me at a party, catapulting water-balloons through dorm windows, etc...
Clearly my buddies in college owe this guy an apology. But what he doesn't know is that my big steroid-inflated buddy is now a Christian Minister that has dedicated his life to building a religious community and helping impoverished families in Mexico. In the past, my friend clearly wasn't nice to this guy, but "now" he's a wonderful human being.
We seek an understanding of our personal reality. Not the reality of the media, not the reality of our society, not the reality of our colleagues, not the reality of our friends and not the reality of our family. Accepting "what is" in the now requires that you only interpret the situation based on 'your' personal experience in the present moment.
THIRD STEP: LOVE
The third step to acceptance is love. Not only a love for others but a love for God, a love for life, a love for our planet and a love for ourselves. But most importantly, this is a filter by which we choose to approach our path to acceptance. In our every action, we think to ourselves, "Is there a more loving way I could approach this situation?"
By approaching our lives through the filter of love, we are choosing our future. You might think of this as the opposite of acceptance because we think of acceptance in terms of accepting what cannot be changed. In that view of acceptance, we believe that we cannot change the world, we cannot change the hearts of men, we cannot change people's actions half-way around the world and we cannot change the past. But I would argue that this view of acceptance is giving up. When we accept that we have no power, we are acting in weakness instead of strength. We are simply getting out of the way.
Instead, we want to approach acceptance with forgiveness, peace and love. We do this in an active sense to play a big role in the world. We do not accept hatred, anger and violence. Instead we accept that by forgiving our trespassers, by finding peace in the reality of our situations and approaching a solution through love that we will make a difference in the world.
So too when we approach acceptance in this manner we bridge the temporal limitations of our universe. When we carry around pain in our hearts, we end up with repeating cycles in our lives. The same situations keep happening in our lives over and over again. You've heard these cycles in the stories of your friends:
I can't find a boyfriend, because I can't trust men.
I can't get a good job, because I don't have the right education.
I can't spend time with my parents, because we always fight about
But so too these stories cause us to approach new relationships in an untrusting manner, to not apply for jobs that have educational requirements and to go into our parent's home expecting a fight. And then we're not surprised when the same thing happens again. In this approach to life, we make our past our future.
But when we approach acceptance through forgiveness, peace and love we actually change time. By forgiving people in our past, we let go of the pain that we bring into the present moment. By accepting people for who they're being right now, we experience them without the baggage of our past. And when we approach every situation with love, we choose a future that won't be constrained by our past. We can actually break through the boundaries of time and chart a new future.
Thus the answer to your question is, "We make the world a better place through acceptance. And when we approach acceptance with forgiveness, peace and love... we make the the world a better place."
This question was asked by Dave Berman who operates the blog and Facebook Fan Page called "Manifest Positivity." His advocacy journalism is a public service for peaceful revolution, coming from a place of love, practicing presence and pronoia.