A View From the Watchroom
Barry K. Wyrick, MS, MBA
Chief Operating Officer
This post is the completion of my series of posts about the three parts of the Serenity Prayer. Again, as a reminder, the famous prayer of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” For this post, I am going to be discussing the final part of the prayer—wisdom to know the difference.
I had to chuckle at myself as I sat down to write about wisdom, as I am not feeling particularly wise right now. I have started walking the wilderness trails in my area, and last weekend I got lost and turned a one-hour walk into a three-hour walk. I actually had the very real thought of how embarrassed I was going to be when I had to call 911 and have the Sheriff’s Office come and find me. You might think that a trail map would be a handy thing!
Each of us has a very real struggle in our life about what we can change and what we have to accept. When we try to change the things that we cannot change, we set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment. When we accept things that we can change, we sell ourselves short and learn to settle for what we don’t really want instead of acting to get what we do want. So how in the world are we to tell the difference?
The first key understanding is that the only thing in our lives that we control is ourselves—so the only thing that we can really change in our lives is ourselves. There are things that important people in our lives do that absolutely delight us, and then there are things that they do that sincerely disappoint and frustrate us. We can attempt to change the things that other important people in our lives do in two ways. First, we need to let those others know when they do things that we like. Everyone likes attention and recognition, and when we thank others for what they have done, they are more likely to do it again. Yes, we even need to thank our loved ones—I should say that in a different way—we especially need to thank our loved ones because their actions have the most impact on us. Second, we need to let others that are important to us know when they do things that we don’t like, but in a way that they can hear. If we are critical, attacking, condescending, or nagging, the other person is unable to hear the message and instead becomes defensive. We need to share in an open and honest way how what that person has done affects us. And here is where Serenity may be needed—while we can share how that person’s actions affect us, we cannot make them change! The best that we are ever able to do is to influence others—it is still their choice to change or not. And finally, you will notice that numbers one and two above were about people that were important to us. We can do nothing to change the behavior of people with whom we are not in a relationship. While you can spend the time confronting the behavior of someone that you don’t know, and they may change what they are doing (or they may shoot you), you can be assured that someone else will come along to irritate you. It is our choice either to constantly be irritated and believe that we need to be the courtesy police for the entire world or to remain Serene in those situations.
The second key understanding is knowing our place in the universe, or more simply put, humility. As I shared above, I have started walking the wilderness trails near my home, and one thing that impresses me is just how little the world cares about people. When we are caught up in the hubbub of our cities and towns, we can be fooled into thinking that humans are the most important thing in this world, but when we are able to get away and see the world at its wildest, we are reminded of our insignificance. And when we think about whether we can change something or not, we need to understand our insignificance as well. Nobody except important people in your life cares what you think. Nobody except important people in your life cares about what you think should happen or how people should act. We are lucky when we have a circle of loved ones to whom we are important. And with all humility, that is our only circle of influence. It is hard to admit to ourselves that no one else cares, but if you don’t believe it, have a tire go flat on the Interstate highway, and see how long you will sit there before someone else stops. I understand that these are harsh realities, and I believe that humility is an important part of Wisdom.
The final key to Wisdom is patience. Our world seems to have sped up dramatically in the last decade. Believe it or not, I can remember when having a computer take five minutes to boot up or open a program was normal, and we thought that it was fast. Now we have instant access to the information on our cell phones! I can remember when we had one telephone in the house, and it was attached to the wall. Now we believe that we must be available to everyone at all times, and some of us can’t get through dinner without checking our messages. As our world has sped up, so has the pressure to act or make decisions quickly. Unfortunately, our reactions do not usually work out as well for us as our actions. In saying that, I define reactions as those things that we do without thinking—our immediate responses. Actions, on the other hand, I define as the choices that we make after a thoughtful analysis. We can think (or be pressured into thinking) that we have to make immediate actions or choices. But in reality, very few things in our lives are truly emergencies. Patience allows us to take some time to consider what actions will work best for us, and what things we truly can change. If truth be told, we will probably make a better decision tomorrow than we will today.
So for me, Wisdom is composed of understanding control, humility, and patience. As we practice these, I believe that we can learn to know the difference between the things that we can change and the things that we cannot change. It will require practice to get better at knowing the difference between the two, but all new skills require practice. I wish you success as you learn to implement Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer in your life—Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom.