Let’s call this a “thoughty” essay posted, if for no other reason than it is the last day of 2017, and I, like millions of others, am contemplating the beginning of a new year. Which by the way is arbitrary: we can, through our own will, begin a new year, a new path, a new outlook on life any time we choose. It does not require a giant ball falling into Times Square or late- night carousing.
This “thoughty” essay is not about another fascinating investigation that has led me down some remarkable path, or is it? Are investigations solely about facts, documents, tangible artifacts and places that can be walked? Can investigations also be philosophical, non-tangential? Is the intellectual wandering beneficial to the ultimate conclusions as in any true and successful investigation? I think so and beg your indulgence to continue. After all, the obsession I bring to the history investigations is driven by my nature and character to question, dig, debate and question again. Let’s proceed.
I read an interesting article on the NYT regarding the things one should set as goals for 2018, presumably to insure a year of peace, productivity and even prosperity. It was a series of stories that had been written by different authors to that very endl, entitled 9 Ways to Be a Better Person in 2018. The very first story advised the reader to start the day by making his or her bed. I do that! A simplistic exercise that starts the day with a bit of order, a sense of achievement and best of all, it requires not an iota of brain power.
I have used up one of my free clicks on NYT digital to retrieve the article’s link and posted here, just in case you are inspired to read more.
All nine recommendations have some level of merit; however, I wish to explore # 5: advice I have received directly or indirectly for decades- Accept the things you cannot control. Sounds logical, smart, and obvious, right? But wait, do we always know which things are beyond our control? Is that not the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question? When do we declare, “that is completely out of my hands and I cannot worry about that?” Is it so obvious that we are automatically equipped beyond a doubt to make that decision? I believe that anyone who espouses that doctrine is over- simplifying reality and in doing so disables the potential for change.
No argument from me that there are forces in nature, including human nature, that are beyond our ability to control as in commanding arbitrary change: order a hurricane to cease and desist; dictate to an individual with a mental disorder to quit the symptoms; or attempt to will another to like us. I would posit that the more appropriate question is ” To what level can this situation be controlled?”
True, we have not figured out how to avoid most natural disasters, however, the degree of devastation and loss of life can be controlled. The quantity, quality and timeliness of prevention mechanisms and subsequent relief are proven methods of managing what might have seemed out of our control.
I wonder if we have not adapted the acceptance philosophy as a rational for sticking our proverbial heads in the sand and washing our hands of personal responsibility with the inevitable result of doing nothing. Pondering that idea conjures up a discussion that will require yet another “thoughty” essay; for now, I will place my confidence in your level of intellect to figure out the consequences.
Reinhold Niebuhr penned the well-known Serenity Prayer about 1932 and the most frequently quoted portion reads:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
I like the prayer for the fact that it suggests that there are also things that we should change and acknowledges that it can be challenging to know the difference. Nonetheless, it leaves me without the necessary framework to get to a positive outcome: which is which? I have wrestled with this for decades and have concluded that the conundrum lies in the overly simplistic approach to the issue. We are not relegated to only two choices: control or no control. We must ask other questions.
What level of control is possible and what are the factors: i.e. money, expertise, time?
Is there something I can offer?
Life decisions are often a question of balance; can I balance a new commitment with those already in place?
Do I want to do this?
I am a life-long advocate of the perspective that as humans our greatest ability to control, effect and manage is restricted to our own thoughts and actions. We have been empowered to answer the questions offered here at least for ourselves, disallowing someone else’s consensus to determine what is or is not within our capacity to impact, effect, improve, accomplish: to control
I appreciate your patience and hope that the little “thoughty” essay has provided a bit of fodder for your brain waves.
May 2018 be a year of positive participation for us all.