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checking out, serenity, and change

Posted on 20 January 2017

I’ve never been a big fan of people who talk about ignoring the news. I believe in the need to be informed about the community and the world so you can act in an informed and responsible way.

But at a certain point you have to ignore the news. Not all of it, but huge chunks of it. The majority of it, really. Do you know how much news there is?

24/7 TV stations, countless current affairs shows on radio, a constant stream of new information breaking on Facebook and Twitter and news feeds coming from all around the world. Look at the newspapers in your local grocery store. Think if how much time it would take you to read all of them. Then multiply that by literally thousands from around the world. The idea that we could take even a small percentage of it in on a daily basis is… well, it’s impossible.

So we filter. We’ve always filtered. I’ve always filtered. We focus on the stuff that’s closer to home, the things that more directly affect our lives and, hopefully, the stuff that we can more directly affect back.

It’s that last point I’m starting to think about a little more in 2017, especially with the thing happening down south. You know the thing– how could you avoid it? It’s everywhere.

And yet I find myself checking out. This thing has consumed so many headlines, so many broadcast hours, so much of my personal time and thought over the past months and, dear god, years, actually, and to what end?

I’m not about to go take part in foreign politics. I don’t know anyone with political sway in that country. What is the point of me sitting, breathlessly, watching the thing move onto its next stage? What insights will it give me? Almost as important, what insights can I offer back?

The thing about platitudes is they are only platitudes until they become profound. I suddenly find myself reflecting on the profundity of the Serenity Prayer– you know, the famous lines:

“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.”

It’s a surprisingly good guiding light for a period of time in which we are invited by all sides to be constantly shocked, constantly outraged, constantly righteously indignant and can you believe this is happening in our world?

I’m not trying to be flippant when I say that bad things have always happened. But, bad things have always happened. Bad things are always happening. They are happening far, far away and they are happening right in your own neighbourhood (good things are always happening, too, but I wrote about that elsewhere).

What I’m trying to do is be strategic about which bad things get my energy. This is a privilege I have as a person who doesn’t have any dramatically bad things happening directly to me. I get to choose which bad things come into my life.

With that privilege comes a responsibility: being strategic about how I use the reserves of energy I have for dealing with bad things. I get to focus it on the areas that I am best equipped to make better.

So is it the thing happening in the United States? Probably not. Is it the less well-documented things, happening closer to home? Almost definitely. Is it less political and more economic things happening in other parts of the world? Quite likely.

There are probably hundreds of ways I could more effectively spend my energies and positively change the world than spending more time focused on the latest what, REALLY? moment coming out of the online conversation.

This isn’t an excuse to be ignorant. This isn’t a throw-your-hands-up-and-watch-Netflix-cuz-we’re-all-going-down-anyway moment. It’s a question of which path is the most morally right one, with a rather utilitarian view: how can I be most effective?

I did a bit of research (Wikipedia) and found out that the Serenity Prayer as I’ve always known it is not actually the prayer in it is original form. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had a number of versions over the years, but one of his later drafts had a subtle shift, imploring us not to change what we can but to change what we should:

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”




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