Is it or isn’t it?

Gary Lester

“It is what it is.” When I hear that, I’m tempted to say “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” (I like to say that every chance I get.) But “It is what it is” really isn’t that obvious, I don’t think.

This is similar to my friend’s genius-type demonstration of “the now.” Remember him? He took a bicycle wheel to his class and said: “‘The now’, is the part of the tire that’s in contact with the road at any given time.” That’s how brief “the now” is and how long “it” (really) IS what it is. And don’t get me started on the Bill Clinton thing: “It depends on what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.” Politicians have their own reality, warped though it may be, or is….

“It is what it is” is generally used as an excuse for something someone is unhappy or uncomfortable with or resolved to be miserable with. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say: “Oh goody, goody, goody! It is what it is!” So there’s this negative connotation to the phrase.

The way I see it, it can only be “it is what it is” in the now, the present, that very brief present. And looking back, I suppose we could say: “It was what it was.” But after considering the present and the past, what’s left? I’d say it’s the future. There’s an old ballad: “Que sera, sera…” “Whatever will be will be….” I’m not ready to totally accept fate or karma as the only answer, though. The future has more to offer than that, if we know how to accept and use it.

We all have choices, lots of them every day. Does “…what it is…” right now have to carry over into the future? I don’t think so. As I said, the phrase is rarely applied to good happenings, so a solid goal can be to change an unpleasantry from “what it is” to something else. Why not try that? As Dr. Phil says: “You can’t fall off the floor.”

Now I should note that if things are going well for a person, “it is what it is” can be OK. But for some reason, human nature doesn’t allow us to dwell on the positive like it does on the negative. Why don’t positive things lift us up to the same extent that negative things bring us down?

Let’s explore some other angles. If “it is what it is” makes sense, then how about “it isn’t what it isn’t.” Can’t wait for an opportunity to use that one, if I can figure out what it means. Maybe it means the same as “it is what it is.”

Hey, maybe the best version is “It isn’t what it could be.”