‘It is what it is’

Faith & Inspiration

I brought my mother to a pulmonary specialist, and prominently displayed on the shelf at the receptionist’s window, staring me in the face from that prime real estate forming the interface between the commoners and the illuminati, was a plaque that read:

“It is what it is.”

While engaged in a lively interaction with the keeper of the gate in matters concerning medical history and information sharing forms, I was simultaneously working hard at mentally grappling with the proposition the office meant me to consider:

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“It is what it is.”

Somebody in some corporate committee room decided it was important enough to make a few thousand of these glorified paper weights—to cast a mold with its decree embossed, to neatly package the items for shipping to all points across the fruited plane. Somebody decided there was a demand. And somebody was right, at least in the suite of heart specialists on the second floor of Abington Hospital’s Levy Building.

Perhaps in modern America, “It is what it is” is the closest we have to a national philosophy. A contest was held between it and “Whatever,” and the former won out because it sounds more deep, and as a rallying banner has a slight edge, in a Kantian way. It is the 21st century “Cogito ergo sum”; who needs Descartes? Like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” just say the words “It is what it is” and get instant smarts cred. The emperor is naked, but no chance anyone will blow the whistle.

Does anybody worry that a populace weaned on empty sayings is a populace that doesn’t learn to think? And if we do not learn to think, is it just possible that anyone in government or politics will be able to sell us a bill of goods?

I have used “It is what it is” a few times myself, mostly to change the subject about something I was too lazy to pursue. The person I was talking to that day probably wanted to discuss a matter in greater depth, but I was bored with it and just bailed out at the nearest exit.

I heard my husband use “It is what it is” once—only once—to me when he was not happy about something in our relationship. But that wasn’t David at his best. Fatalism is not his thing; he never buys into inevitability but trusts the God of all possibilities. Maybe he meant it in its purest sense, that we have to start where we are and acknowledge reality before moving forward. Whatever.

Speaking of which, here is a better proposal for a desk plaque: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Too wordy for your window, sir? It is what it is.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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