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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 have recited the words above many thousands of times. It often does not work. Somewhere deep inside there lurks an opposite sentiment, an anti-serenity prayer to self. “I hate [insert adverse circumstance/condition/outcome here] and I resent that I do not have the power to change it.” In this formulation, discernment and wisdom have no role.
Ever since Eve thought if I were to eat that apple and gain knowledge and power and her idiot husband went along, there has been a flaw in each of us such that we refuse to affirm the gift of being part of reality and instead imagine a state of being we cannot have and should not really want.The Antifa/BLM phenomenon, for example, is a kind of anti-serenity prayer: I hate this reality and I resent that I do not have the power nor the vision to transform it so, if I had the power, I would destroy it all.
If I were … [something other than I am now]… Imagination is not evil. It depends on who or what it works for. I can imagine myself making far better use of my time, being more cognizant of others. A competent planner might imagine how some village could be cleaner and safer. Someone could imagine that he/she could improve life by starting a new business venture or simply living healthier and stronger. A gifted storyteller might imagine a complete new world. I could use mind powers granted me by aliens to become rich and seduce runway models. All but one of these thoughts could give rise to beneficial actions and would not be a waste of mental space and time by indulging it.
Kids should pretend to be pirates or cowboys or on a quest. Imaginary realms are places to feel out unfolding virtues, ambitions, and personhood. An escape into well-crafted stories in novel settings that explore life’s truths is helpful at any age. While reality usually does intrude when healthy imagination mutates into something less healthy, an attachment to a wrong wish born of a denial of who, what, when, and where we are can linger and fester.
Some economists opine that the rate of growth has stalled because the pace of innovation has stalled. I don’t know whether that is true but if there is an underlying societal shift away from imagination and action towards wishing and resentment that would be a frightening turn. If young men were to stop trying to get the attention of the prettiest girl in school and instead stay home and imagine trysts with a warrior princess in a video game, if we all were to start to live avatar lives in isolated immersion in entertainment media and if the American people were to wish for some instant (impossible) transformation of society rather than cherish the freedom to first imagine and then actually bring new things to life, that would be a spiritual, political, and social disaster.
Knowing the difference between wondrous possibilities on the one hand and delusions that feed narcissism and denial on the other should not be all that hard, should it? But in ways large and small that wisdom appears to escape many or most of us often. (Well, it certainly has often escaped me, anyway.)
When I was much younger, I liked to fantasize about time travel but now that I am
getting old, it is much harder to do because I instantly worry that anything I do while visiting the past might undo the chain of events leading to my children and grandchildren. It kinda wrecks the fantasy. Having to accept the fact that I can’t edit out or revise past pain without undoing or harming what really matters should be some kind of lesson, some learned wisdom about the real price of joy, meaning, and love and the critical role of acceptance. I admit I don’t really have that kind of wisdom yet but now I am pretty sure it exists and I will recognize it if I ever get there–kinda like physical fitness or fiscal responsibility. I can already hear that inner voice that tells me that the menu of life was never going to be a la carte, you were always going to get whatever else is on the plate, grasshopper.
I had hoped that wisdom would be easier and more fun (sorta like what the serpent said about eating that apple). But, maybe, if I were wise, it would be.
[Done for Ricochet September Group Writing]Published in