God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
I like Victorian-era cemeteries, and whenever I visit one the Serenity Prayer enters my mind.
In those days there was no cure for tuberculosis, which was romantically called “consumption” and which along with other infectious diseases filled the churchyards and necessitated the creation of vast new burying grounds.
Victorian cemeteries were intended as parks where families could picnic and visit their departed loved ones on Sunday afternoons. The statuary was full of meaning and symbols and was highly elaborate and often very beautiful. People had no choice but to accept death, and they did so by romanticizing and beautifying what they were at that time powerless to cure.
So many things we had to accept yesterday are things we can do something about today or will be able to solve tomorrow.
This, to my mind, is the crux of the matter of wisdom: The line between what we must accept and what we have the power to change is constantly shifting, and therefore wisdom lies in not ever becoming complacent or cowardly or mentally lazy, but in remaining always curious to learn more and ready to be surprised and have one’s mind changed.
So let me close with a few books that surprised me and got me thinking:
The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua
The Nurture Assumption, by Judith Rich Harris
The End of Men, by Hanna Rozin