Few things shape our experience more intensely than our relationship with acceptance and rejection. Social by nature, desire for acceptance and fear of rejection are hardwired into the core operations of our brains.
We seek places to fit in and belong, which feels great and provides security, but it exposes us to rejection and exclusion, which feels terrible and introduces risk.
How strong is our desire for acceptance? How deep is our fear of rejection?
It’s not just that acceptance feels good and rejection feels bad. It feels like life and death.
Acceptance feels like a lifeline. Rejection feels like a death sentence. Rationally, we know it’s not actual life and death, but emotionally, it feels like that.
When we get rejected, it feels like our life is over. When we are accepted, it feels like our life is born anew.
Shakespeare understood this and memorialized it in “Romeo & Juliet.” After Tybalt kills Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, Romeo retaliates by killing Tybalt. According to the law, the punishment for murder was death, so Romeo hid in a church.
Authorities decided not to sentence Romeo to death for his crime, instead choosing a lesser punishment: banishment from the city of Verona. The friar found Romeo hiding in the church and happily delivered the news that Romeo would not face death for the crime of killing Tybalt but would get to keep his life in exile.
That’s not how Romeo saw it.
ROMEO: Ha, banishment! be merciful, say ‘death’ For exile hath more terror in his look, Much more than death: do not say ‘banishment.’
Romeo saw banishment as worse than death. Keeping his life in exile carried more terror than losing his life completely. Think about the intensity of that feeling.
The friar attempted to give Romeo perspective.
FRIAR LAURENCE: Hence from Verona art thou banished: Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.
He tried to get Romeo to see beyond his immediate circumstances and emotions, pointing out that there were other places for him to find purpose and fulfillment, calling on him to be patient.
Romeo would not hear it.
ROMEO: Then ‘banished’ death mistermed.
The lesson in this, for now, is to recognize and appreciate the power of acceptance and rejection in our own lives and the strength of the emotions it stirs in us. It doesn’t require actual life and death to feel like life and death.
The time is now. Do the work.
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Brian Kight is a multi-industry leader on the topics of leadership, culture, and behavior. He provides simple systems that produce exceptional results for organizations, teams, and people.