God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.Those are the original words of what has become known as the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Catholic theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, although he could not remember with certainty that he wrote them. There are actually several lines after that about enjoying the moment and surrendering to God's will. Most people are familiar with a briefer, somewhat altered version that comes from Alcoholics Anonymous.
The serenity Prayer is one of those bits of folk wisdom that many people just accept as true. I'm a bit contrarian, and there is little that I don't question. For one thing, I think wisdom is overrated. Same for serenity. More importantly, what about those things that this wisdom says cannot be changed? What if they are completely unacceptable? Might it not be better to tilt at windmills on the off chance that you might actually do more good than if you were to become serenely accepting of the unacceptable?
Here are the words of a writer more after my own heart:
Do not go gentle into that good night,Dylan Thomas wrote that poem for his dying father. But since death is the end of every life, and we're all on the path toward it, perhaps it's never too early to start raging. I'm pretty sure there will be an overabundance of serenity in death. Nothingness is pretty serene. I'm more in favour of raging against the unacceptable than accepting it serenely.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I'm approaching an age when I'm supposed to have acquired some amount of wisdom. And I think I have. I don't rage against nearly as many things as I did when I was younger. I choose my battles. But I don't think I will ever be ready to become serenely boring. That would feel like death to me.
I have changed many things in my life that obviously could be changed, including things I thought at first could NOT be changed. Therein lies the danger in going too quickly to acceptance. Perhaps wisdom is incorrect, at least sometimes. Perhaps an object that seems immovable can, in fact, be budged. Perhaps a problem that seems intractable can, in fact, be solved. Going too quickly to acceptance might prevent us from learning that something can be changed.
I intend to live until I die.