Celebrate The Future

“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.”

The Serenity Prayer. Whether you are a Christian or not; if you’re Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, whatever, it doesn’t matter. The Serenity Prayer makes sense. This is NOT an entry preaching Christianity or any particular faith. The philosophy put forth in that prayer, I believe, applies to everyone universally no matter your faith or outlook.

In a world where hypertension kills people and stress is something everyone has to learn to manage, the simple wisdom of the Serenity Prayer could solve so many issues for a great many people. Let’s break it down real quick and take a look at the meaning. We’ll even leave out the first six words so that you can see how the rest applies to everyone from all walks of life and every faith.

“accept the things I cannot change;” What other choice do you have? I have to tell folks this on occasion: There are things in life that we cannot change. Some simple examples are the weather, going to school, going to work, our dogs shedding, etc. Sure, some things can be changed over a period of time, but day to day you simply have to recognize that there are things you can’t change and just have to deal with. Another phrase I’m familiar with hearing often is, “It is what it is.” We say this around my police department (and at home) when we’ve identified something that we can’t change, especially when we’re not particularly happy with it.

“courage to change the things I can;” Let’s be honest, it often takes a great deal of courage to change. The “old and familiar” way of doing things is often comforting. It’s what we know; what we’re used to. Even if we don’t like it, it’s something we are sure of while the future, if we change, is not. Being scared of the unknown is a relatively universal fear. As a police officer I’ve encountered a great many people who found themselves in a place in life that they weren’t happy with, but they were so afraid of an unknown future that they refused to make changes. Often this resulted in their staying in an abusive relationship or a squalid way of life. What they lacked was the simple courage to change something that they could control.

“wisdom to know the difference.” There is the kicker. Let’s face it: the problem with common sense is that it’s uncommon. We humans have this tendency to think we can control every facet of our lives and, to some extent, the lives of those we interact with. One of the most frustrating experiences we can have is when we care about someone who is experiencing something negative in their life. WE can’t control that; WE can’t affect a change that will improve their situation; THEY can but choose not to. The frustration for us is that we know a change can be made and the situation improved, but we cannot force those we care about to make the necessary change. Therefore, we have to recognize that situation as one of the things we have to accept that we cannot change. We continue to encourage them to make the necessary positive change, but if WE overly stress ourselves about something we can’t control maybe we should sit down and say the Serenity Prayer – or at least think about the wisdom it contains.

As a parent, a service veteran, a police veteran, and an amateur philosopher I’ve long believed that the tenets of the Serenity Prayer should be one of our foundational teachings in life. As a police recruit I was trained in stress management techniques. I was taught about the benefits of exercise, time off, supportive family, etc. Never was I taught to simply identify the difference between things I could change and things I couldn’t, and then to simply deal with those I couldn’t change. It’s SO simple to think about and say. It’s much harder to practice.

I encourage you to take a few minutes out of your day to identify the things you’re worrying about. Identify the ones you can’t change at all. Identify the ones you can change relatively easily. Identify the challenges in your life that you can change but that will take long term effort and patience. Then commit to not wasting energy and your health worrying about the things you can’t change. Deal with them in whatever way your faith, habits, etc. permit. But don’t waste your energy fretting about them when all it gains you is higher blood pressure.

As my son prepared to leave for Marine Corps Boot Camp he admitted to me that he was worried and a little scared. I assured him that was natural and we discussed what he needed to focus on through Boot Camp. With the Serenity Prayer in mind, but not said out loud, we came up with a few simple rules. You may have seen these before in “Borelli’s Rules.”

Just don’t quit. This is one thing that each of us can always exercise direct control over. No one can make you quit but you. So the simple commitment not to quit forces us to either deal with what we cannot change, or to change the things we can. It forces us into a default position of following the tenets of the Serenity Prayer.

You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it. Part of being in the service is being given assignments or facing challenges that we’d prefer not to deal with. As soldiers we don’t have a choice in whether or not we take the assignment or face the challenge. Orders are orders and our duty is our duty. We don’t have to like it; we just have to do it. This too follows one of the tenets of the Serenity Prayer: accept the things I cannot change. In the short term he cannot change what he has to do. In the long term he can always decide not to re-enlist when this tour of duty is complete.

Focus on the mission at hand. It is easy to get distracted by everything in our lives. I just read an article on CNN that said, essentially, daydreaming is the “default setting” for our brains. In other words, if we don’t keep our brains busy and focused on something specific, we simply lapse into daydreaming. Learning to concentrate and focus is something we learn how to do growing up. As much as we can simply relax our brains into daydreaming, we can also get so distracted by other things around us, or in our lives, that we lose focus on the task at hand. Those distractions can include: being homesick, being hungry, being cold, missing our significant other, etc. At their worst, distractions can include criticism from those we care about. Because we care about those people, and therefore their opinions, it’s easy to let their criticism of our actions have a negative impact on how well we perform our assigned or chosen mission(s). I have personally experienced this: my father was very disappointed in the fact that I enlisted in the Army and he voiced that disappointment on a fairly regular basis. That had a negative impact on how I performed my duties; it was on my mind and made me doubt, to some limited extent, my own commitment.

Focusing on the mission at hand means ignoring all of the things we cannot change that might distract us from being successful. Focusing on the mission at hand means choosing to perform at the best of our ability despite distractions coming at us.

So, how does all this relate to celebrating the future and not being negative about the past? We cannot change the past. The past is set in stone. The future is what we can affect in a positive manner if we approach it with an energetic and positive outlook.

It’s easy to look around and see people spending a lot of time and effort (and sometimes tax payers’ dollars) debating things that cannot be changed. What action can they take today to make something that happened in the past better? Well, there’s nothing they can do. They can offer an apology. They can offer money to people with the intent that the money is part of an apology or admission of guilt. None of that changes the past.

At what point do we draw the line and say, “Hey; this is bordering on ridiculous. Sure, something done in the past was wrong, but none of what was done back then affects how things are done today; no one alive today has experienced this wrong; no amount of apologizing will ever change the past. Let’s look at the future and move on.” Isn’t it better to focus time, energy and expenditures on improving the future?

“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.”

I think some folks are still searching for the wisdom to know the difference. I know I do sometimes.

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