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
Reason # 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 history behind the development of the free world isn’t something most people know, even in America, but I think people sense it intuitively never the less. My mom, her brothers and sisters grew up in North Tyler (not the nice side). As a child, I remember a remark made by Mimi (Mom’s mom). I don’t remember the context but she said, “we always were poor”, and maybe from that experience, mom new something we didn’t. Possibly she was 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.
Reason # two: I’ve been working on a problem that not only has no resolution to date, but the people I went to for assistance bailed on me, and in one case, took my money and ran. I’ve written about this in another blog concerned with the financial crisis and how I got caught up in the fiasco. The banks ripped off homeowners because they were so concerned about impending financial disaster that might be suffered by their own people that they leveraged their power to insulate themselves at the expense of homeowners. Of course, that’s a homeowner’s 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 what is probably sage advice, that is, if you can figure out what it means. Even though I can’t fully verbalize it, the quote resonates. Apparently, it was locked away in the depths my memory for decades until I found myself in a struggle, all possible remedial options exhausted. I had to figure out how to deal with being robbed of my American dream, the object of my decades long planning.
The serenity prayer offers two choices. A blessing of serenity means scrapping the original plan and forging a new path, which makes sense if there’s no way to move forward with the path you’re on. But if a path exists, we’re encouraged to follow the second choice which is to affect change… but there’s a slight contradiction here because we all believe that we deserve serenity, at least as much as the next guy…that’s what equality (the concept of rationality in a market system based society) is for. So, nobody would want the first option since it means loosing “the dream”…our piece of the pie. But then, that’s what the last line is for; reconciling our expectations with the reality of our path. Damn, that’s a hard pill to swallow! It contradicts with our western beliefs and attitudes…a faith of sorts. Some call that conventional wisdom, or Americanism or Modernism, or even a meta-narrative; a master narrative that describes how us westerners understand our place in the world.
But if your intuition is telling you, “show up and affect change”, then acceptance is not an option. The fact that you pray for courage to do so, means that the normal state of human psyche is fear is telling you to turn around.
On the surface, the prayer is comforting because, there’s no contradiction. God will tell you what to do. Your internal voice will tell you to affect change or accept the status quo. It sounds simple but really, you’ll either be conscripted to a painful fight or you’ll take a path that leads to retreat and you leave all your possessions behind for the looters (Hey…problem solved! I mean, life is like a video game right?! All I have to do is to return to the secret cave where the life giving fountain waits to reset the clock on my life and then setup my life in a place where the universe is less screwed up than the last one. Of course, the new place is governed by the same rules as the last….even in video game land.
What if you’re one of the conscientious citizens, who, discovers the right choice is to “change those things I can”? The prayer suggest that you’ll have to put something on the line since you need God’s help to muster the courage to fight? The choice is ours right…You know, free will and everything. Is this really egalitarian where some people fight and get beaten up while others just bail out? What’s the meaning of the western principle of dialogue when most people in western society take the easy way out, avoid conflict and take their “God” granted serenity?
Point 2 – Even if this is the “easy” route, you’ll still lose 5-10 years rebuilding; years you won’t get back. No matter what you choose, 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 your life….if you’re lucky because you started young.
So, if real prosperity is the goal then it makes sense to take option #3.
“If you want to get out of the operating room alive, stay out of the hospital”
Easy, for the wealthiest 20%. For the rest of us, we have to choose door #1 or door #2. 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.