The 13th Step

          Like a lot of folks, I’ve attended my fair share of 12 step meetings, and if there is one thing that has stayed with me,
it’s something called “The Serenity Prayer.” You’ve probably seen it on a bumper sticker:
          God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the

          You don’t need to be a theologian or even a theist to grasp that this is a request for 3 things:
          1. Acceptance: Much of what we encounter in life falls  under the category of “things beyond our purview” — whether it’s someone else’s drinking or drugging, the weather, or the Ministry of Education. Alas…
          2. Courage: Aristotle said we learn courage by doing courageous things, while the Cowardly Lion observed, “It’s what makes the muskrat guard his musk.” There are some things we can change, and to make this happen, we need to summon our will. So easy to say (or blog). So tough to do. After all, who wants to be the guy to tell Uncle Hector that he’s been drinking too much?
          3. Wisdom: In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl comes to learn that the ultimate freedom — something that even the Nazi guards couldn’t deprive him of —  is our ability to decide how we will look at reality. While we can’t control what a a brother bets, what a dad drinks, or what an aunt eats, we can, in fact, choose how we will look at the situation.  And that freedom to consciously choose our world view,  while it can’t guarantee serenity, it’s at least a start.

          On a personal level, I’ve tried to boil all of this down for my own sons by frequently reciting this mantra (as they, of course, roll their eyes in unison):

             “Do the do-able. Control the control-able.” A particularly perturbed Power lad once added, “and pound the pound-able.” (I am not recommending this “13th step,” though there are times when I can appreciate the sentiment.)


One thought on “The 13th Step

  1. In my family we call things we ought not waste time trying to control “S.E.P”–Someone Else’s Problem. We use S-E-P whenever we get worked up about things that affect us but are beyond our powers to influence meaningfully. It doesn’t let us ignore people who need our help, but it *does* allow us to remember our limitations.

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