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Have you ever said ‘it is what it is’ to someone with a real problem?

By: Keith Kappes
Carter County Times

If you used that phrase and said nothing else, you probably left the impression that you couldn’t care less about what had happened and that you were helpless to do anything in the unlikely event you actually did give a damn.

Workplace surveys have shown that phrase is highly disliked as being uncaring or callous and, in reality, has become a cop-out for those who don’t want to get involved with someone else’s problems, personal or otherwise.

I had a great boss in the newspaper business who was fond of that expression. But after a year of hearing him use it regularly in response to a variety of work-related issues, I challenged him to explain his reason for liking and using those frustrating, perhaps even hurtful, words.

To my mild surprise, he said he had learned that allowing someone to fret and worry over what had happened was a waste of time and ultimately made it harder for that person to accept the challenge of finding a timely solution or mitigation of the issue.

My limited research found that the origin of the phrase is unclear, as is exactly what it means in any given context. Some say it often is interpreted as a wisecrack or a means of telling someone to take their gloom and doom elsewhere.

A co-worker told me a few years ago that he didn’t like those five words used together because they could influence a less confident person to assume the immediate problem was unsolvable. 

A man writing on the subject in an obscure Internet blog described the phrase somewhat jovially as “a pronouncement of the man-in-charge that means the man-in-charge is giving up on a problem or situation.” 

He added that such an utterance from the top was a “prompt” for an ambitious lower status male to say he’d like to try “one more thing” for the good of the company, no doubt. 

That writer obviously is a prime candidate for sensitivity training on gender equity in the workplace. 

I wasn’t sure how to end this piece until I ran across the mournful, broken-hearted lyrics to the title track of an album released last year by musician-songwriter Stephen Bruner whose stage name is Thundercat.

Here’s what he said so profoundly in the third verse about “it is what it is”:

After all is said and done
And I’m all alone.
When I sit back and reflect
From a broken heart.
Sometimes there’s regret.
It is what it is.

Keith Kappes can be reached at keithkappes@gmail.com



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