Rejection

It has been a while since I’ve done a word meditation. For a variety of reasons, the word I’m focusing on today is “rejection”

Rejection” combines “Reject” with “-ion“: the latter is a standard suffix used in English to make verb, adjectives and past participles into nouns, specifically to show action or condition.

“Reject” is the key though. “Reject” comes to us from Latin and is formed with the Latin prefix “Re” added to “ject”.

“Re” is a heavy-lifting prefix in English. Even though it comes from Latin originally, it’s well ensconced in English such that it may as well be considered a native (kind of like me and the Pacific Northwest). “Re” conveys a sense of “return” or doing again.

“ject” comes to us from the Latin past participle “iactus”. In classical Latin, there was no “j”: an initial “i” before a vowel was pronounced like a “y” in “yes”. By the middle ages, the convention of indicating that “y” sound by adding a tail to the “i” created our letter “j”. Over time the “j” transformed from a “y” sound to the “j” (as in “jack”) sound we’re familiar with today and so what was once pronounced “yact” became “ject”. Frankly, I’m not sure about the transformation of the “a” to an “e”, but it is a consistent transformation.

In Latin, “iactus” is a particle of the verb “iacio” which means to throw. That verb is used in one of my favorite classical Latin sayings: “Alea iacta est”, which means “the die is cast” and was uttered by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon and irrevocably set in motion the Civil War. Iacio as a verb conveys a sense of throwing and hurling and the many words in English that have “ject” in them convey that sense of propulsion (project, deject, inject). So motion and propulsion are important elements in any word that is constructed with “ject”.

Bringing this back to “reject”, then, we have a word that has a very clear sense of “throwing back” and that’s key to this word’s power. When you reject something, you are throwing back something that was given to you. You show that it’s not wanted in your act of throwing it back. Rejection adds in the “-ion” suffix to describe that act as a state.

Rejection is a very powerful, negative action and emotion because it almost always inherently points to an imbalance between the giver and the receiver. The giver wants to give. But the receiver doesn’t want receive. In its most powerful and painful uses, “rejection” is a word associated with love and emotion and describes what goes on within unrequited love. Perhaps the most powerful visual illustration of rejection is this short scene from The Simpsons where Bart experiences the rejection of unrequited love and in a dream sequence shows what he feels is is happening.

In some ways, “rejection” is one of the most painful and horrible things to experience. When you are in a state of rejection, you’re not wanted, thrown back, thrown away. What you have to offer is refused (sometimes very cruelly). The imbalance inherent in rejection also has an inherent vulnerability on the part of the giver and a hurting on the part of the reluctant receiver. Rejection is such a painful experience that the fear of it is codified in our language as a stock phrase: “fear of rejection”.

Sadly, rejection is something I’ve known a lot of. I’ve talked about abandonment issues and rejection is buried in there as part of that. For myself, the greatest rejection was my father who I never saw in person after age six and never spoke with after age 12. He made no efforts to see me and so I felt that a very deep, thorough rejection. It made me believe that there was something wrong with me because why else would he want nothing to do with me. Rejection poured over me like acid, burning and scaring me on the outside, and seeping in and destroying and corroding my stability and structure on the inside.

There have been other rejections in my life and one reason I’m writing this is I’m processing another one (as is someone very close to me even more so). No matter how familiar you are with rejection, it still hurts. It’s one of those things that it seems no amount of exposure or experience will dull or lessen.

And yet, if we would give, if we would love, if we would do anything other than sit behind our walls and be safe, we have to risk rejection. We have to go out there, put ourselves out there, open ourselves up….and get the living shit beat out of us on a regular basis for doing so.

What else can we do if we would truly live? For just as we experience rejection there is also acceptance. And so perhaps one of those paradoxical things about being alive is that to be alive, we have to accept rejection rather than reject rejection. In a way, this acceptance strikes me as inline with some of what Buddhism talks about in regards to the role of suffering in life. Specifically, that suffering is inherent and just part of the price you pay for being alive. Part of the Buddhist path is accepting that reality rather than rejecting it.