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.
– Reinhold Niebuhr
PHOTOS: The construction pictures included here are the studio I built in my home that I recently lost to a wrongful foreclosure. I included them to help illustrate what the quote means to me as an artist who needs a studio in order to work, and so spent countless hours building one.
There are a lot of good quotes out there but I’m not sure this is one of them. There are several reasons that it resonates but two things in particular come to mind.
Mom as as teenager in the old neigborhood
One: This quote hung on the wall of my childhood home, put there by…who else? Mom. I’m not sure why it was so meaningful for her but I would assume that anyone not born wealthy would need this attitude in order to make it in a world where complexity has lead to inequality, which, in every new decade takes us further and further from the egalitarian principles that western culture is founded on. The academics behind societies development isn’t something most people would logically know, but I think people sense it intuitively never the less. My mom, her brothers and sisters grew up in North Tyler which is not the nicer side. From a statement that Mimi made once, “we always were poor”, and maybe from that experience, mom new something we didn’t; trying to prep her kids for the real world which is much more fast paced and competitive than the shielded existence that we were blessed with growing up in a middle class home.
Two: I’ve been working on a problem that not only has no resolution to date, but the people I went to for assistance (small requests) bailed on me and, in one case, took my money and ran without doing due diligence. This problem, that I’ve written about in another blog concerns the financial crisis and how I got caught up in this fiasco where banks ripped off homeowners because they were so concerned about impending financial disaster that might be suffered by their own people and had the power to insulate themselves at the expense of, the homeowners. Of course, that’s a homeowners interpretation and the complexities of the financial securities trading business is one that few really understand. But still….the perspective is valid.
I won’t go into any great detail about the events surrounding how I lost my home because that’s what the other blog is for. Instead, I’ll summarize for the benefit of this post:
- I was only $2,400 short when I finally regained the ability to continue mortgage payments. The bank should have rolled this small amount into the balance and restructured the mortgage with a loan modification.
- The bank lied for two years saying that they wanted to help me get a loan modification while the balance kept rising and fines were tacked on making it impossible to catch up without a modification.
- They ignored my efforts and I sued for wrongful foreclosure
- My first lawyer tanked my case by filing a document one day late and then went A.W.O.L and would not return my phone calls.
- I ended up in a court hearing with no lawyer while I searched through my church contacts for a replacement thinking that my last lawyer was unreliable because he was not affiliated with “the church”.
- I found a new lawyer through church contacts and this lawyer was affiliated with “the church”.
- This attorney and his assistants used an argument that they had reason to believe would be ineffective since another attorney previously tried it and failed, his failure creating a new precedent that would prevent any future plaintiff from using the same argument due to the tradition of “stare decisis”.
- Me an Snoop got evicted and charged around $45,000.00 for the privilege of being ripped off by Wall Street, the federal government and my own lawyers.
I’ve had other hardships but this one is a whale that recalls memories of the little needlepoint, wood framed plaque that offered some of the best advice that I’ve still not figured out how to access, despite having been in constant view in my most formative years in the home environment of my most influential social group, the nuclear family. If the message were simple, I’d say it’s the best quote ever thought up! But in reality, if it resonates with you then you’ve likely had to deal with a hardship such as, how to move on after being wronged, with no closure. The prayer offers two choices regarding an old path that has become untenable. Scrapping it and forging a new one makes sense by itself and if there’s an obligation to stay on the old path for the sake of affecting change, then the second line preempts the first but theres a slight contradiction here because we all believe that we deserve serenity, at least as much as the next guy…that’s what equality is. So, nobody would want the second. Of course, I understand that, in theory, that’s what the last line is for; reconciling our will with our path and the hard choice contradicting our western values. So if wisdom tells you that your problem cuts to the core of the identity of egalitarian society and you have to use this experience to affect change or simply because it’s the right thing to do or you can’t make it financially without justice, then acceptance is not an option. And, the fact that you would need courage to move forward on this path, means that every fiber of your being is telling you that there is danger up ahead.
When isolating the prayer from context such as scriptures, secular egalitarian principle, western values…etc, there’s still no contradiction because if we stop there, then the quote simply means that you’ll either be conscripted to a painful fight or you’ll avoid the draft and rebuild your life elsewhere and regain prosperity. Rebuild…yeaaa…problem solved…if you live in a society based on feudalism. Good ol’ feudalism, a system replaced 500 years ago with the market system, the end game of which is equality and prosperity for all. So, point 1) This interpretation of the quote is disturbing because, what if you’re one of the ones who, through wisdom, discovers that the right choice is to muster the courage to fight? Is this really egalitarian where some people fight and get beaten up while others just rebuild and enjoy their God granted serenity? Point 2 – if you take the serenity route, you have to expect you’ll lose 5-10 years rebuilding; years you won’t get back. You’ll be rebuilding and suffering through your prime years when you should be enjoying your prosperity that you worked so hard to build over the last 10-15 years….if you’re lucky. So, this interpretation sounds real good for those who have the resources to stay out of the problem to begin with. But, that’s conventional wisdom for ya. Taking all this into account, here’s a quote that makes a lot more sense to me.
“If you want to get out of the operating room alive, stay out of the hospital”
Easy….except that life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes the hospital visit comes, no matter how rational or responsible you are.
My advertising degree (one of my sources of wisdom I use to “know the difference”) conscripted me to this fight with knowledge of the history of the origins of western society, the market system and the market power imbalance that has reduced equality with each passing decade in the absence of regulation. That study of history leads me to believe that with so much power in the hands of some to manipulate the lives of others, this distribution of prosperity is, on average, hardly devine.
But, I’ve experienced faith working, and I think that it’s not only real, but quite possibly, the only thing that can counter the destructive power that regular people suffer at the whim of the entitled. Maybe the problem is the prosperity gospel. It just doesn’t gel with the narratives of the new testament in the Christian Bible. From what I can tell, the new testament refutes it. And this is a problem for a market system based society because the system was created within the Christian, egalitarian paradigm of reality. This IS objective reality in the west.
So, as much as I need to understand the quote in a real world context, I’ll just have to keep staring at it through my minds eye and willing it to make sense. Maybe one day it will.