“Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This “Serenity Prayer” attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, and often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, is known to many, and found hanging in cross-stich patterns, wood carvings and photographs on walls across the country. It seems to offer a well-balanced road map for the complexities of life, and many of us take it as more of a resolution for action than a request for a gift from the Almighty.
But it struck me recently that we may not be taking it in as well-balanced a manner as we might. From childhood, we are trained in and rewarded for “serenity to accept”, quite often discouraged from “courage to change” and never asked to try “wisdom to know” at all.
“Let your sister have the first turn, she’s littler than you.” “Boys don’t like girls who are too smart, let them go first.” “The boss said it’s been a hard year, there’s probably no point in asking for a raise.” We are well schooled in accepting the things we (apparently) cannot change, and we encourage ourselves to work on an attitude of serenity all the time.
What about the courage to change the things I can change? Well, yes, but… “Now is not the right time, this is not the right way, we are not the people to take an action like that.” Seldom do we receive encouragement to practice courage, or to make waves. Do you encourage yourself to work on courage with the same assiduity that you try to practice serenity?
As for wisdom, that’s for other people, nobody would claim to be working on increasing their wisdom, people would laugh at that.
The result of all of this is that many of us have overdeveloped “serenity muscles” and underdeveloped “courage muscles” and “wisdom muscles”. Like any muscle, these become stronger with exercise, and if they are not used, they atrophy. It’s no wonder that we default to accepting whatever happens, it’s our best skill. Courage, not being practiced frequently, doesn’t seem like a go-to option, especially when we’re already so good at serenity. With the overdependence on accepting, there is really no need to worry about practicing wisdom at all. Consider how much practice you have already put in on training your serenity muscle. You need at least that much exercise and training to speak boldly and to choose wisely. Now is the time to start working out!