Serenity prayer

Most people know the Serenity Prayer, at least in its abbreviated form. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” It seems custom-made for printing on 1970s plaster gift plaques and graphics suitable today for Facebook. (This is only the first part, worded slightly differently, of the original version.)

In its simplicity, though, it has a lot of wisdom, not least being the recognition that there is a difference, and also recognizing that, like all wisdom, it’s not immediately obvious.

For instance: I’ve recently gotten an official diagnosis that I have a “touch” of what we used to call ADD. (It’s now called ADHD-PI. The “PI” stands for “predominantly inattentive.”) In talking about it, I have learned that it can be a bit hard to assess in adults because by this time “we” have evolved systems to deal with it.

The thought occurs to me: if I have a system to deal with it, is it really a “condition”? Shouldn’t I just keep doing what I’ve been doing? What is something within this that I can change, and what is there that I need to simply accept? What does acceptance look like?

There’s a fairly new medication, for instance, that will make a difference (if it’s going to) within 90 minutes or so of taking the first dose. In this case, would “acceptance” mean taking the medicine (after all, I can’t change the underlying biology)? Or is this more of a “change” thing (it takes a bit of courage to change what has worked all these years in order to try something that might work a lot better)?

Here’s another way to look at it: it is quite possible for me to simply be stubborn in the name of acceptance. Another clichéd saying is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But current wisdom recognizes the opposite truth: “If it Ain’t Broke…Break It!

We don’t want to settle for comfort in the name of acceptance, because if you’re learning, you’re almost certainly going to be uncomfortable.

On the other hand, there is also a time to walk away. More cliché: Insanity is doing the same thing you’ve been doing, but expecting different results.

On the other hand, there is the value of persistence. A stone mason knows that you can tap the hammer on the wedge a hundred times, and it will look as if nothing is happening, but then on the hundred-and-first tap, the desired face can shear off.

I had a student last term who was very aware that her voice and delivery style makes her sound, well, how else can I say it, like an elf. She could respond in several ways. She could have retreated into shyness, afraid to speak up. She could have tortured herself physically, trying to pitch her voice as low as possible, which could have caused damage to her vocal cords and robbed her of expression (changing your natural pitch can lead to a flat tone, since you can’t go any lower and won’t allow yourself to go higher).

Or she could accept it (can’t change the physiology), and build her credibility with an audience in other ways (changing the things she can). She can even strategically take advantage of it–there are certain benefits that can accrue when people underestimate you in some circumstances. She was wise enough to take this route.

I don’t have any magic insights here, other than that this dilemma is a feature of life. The best we can do is raise our own awareness, make sure we’re not fooling ourselves, observe others for insight, and take responsibility for our own decisions.

May your pursuit of wisdom yield excellent results for you!

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