Ambigamy

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The Human Condition in a nutshell: Serenity prayer nails it, and here’s the rest. Part 1

Human condition: Serenity prayer nails it and here's the rest

The Human Condition in a nutshell: Serenity prayer nails it, and here’s the rest

As a prose-lover, I so admire the serenity prayer.  To my ears it’s the most exquisite, precise and succinct formulation ever of a universal tough judgment call and the wisdom required to deal with it.  Here the serenity prayer’s form is applied to other universal tough judgment calls.  At one time or another every one of us has been strung out on the horns of these dilemmas. 

I’ve got 16 such variations which I’ll deliver in four parts. Here’s the first:

1. Should I join this?


Grant me the enthusiasm to join the things that will prove to have been worth joining, the aversion to not join the things that will prove to have been not worth joining, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The wisdom here is the ability to minimize both regretted yes’s and regretted no’s on the question "Should I join this?" because the last thing I want is the enthusiasm to join things that will prove to have been not worth joining or the aversion to not join things that will prove to have been worth joining.

Of course the challenge is that what will prove to have been worth joining can’t be known for sure until tomorrow, and I have to decide today.

2. Should I stay with this?


Grant me the dedication to stay with the things that will prove to have been worth staying with, the impatience to not stay with the things that will prove to have been not worth staying with, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The wisdom here is the ability to minimize both regretted yes’s and regretted no’s on the question "Should I stay with this?" because the last thing I want is the dedication to stay with things that will prove to have been not worth staying with or the impatience to not stay with things that will prove to have been worth staying with.

Of course the challenge is that what will prove to have been worth staying with can’t be known for sure until tomorrow, and I have to decide today.

3. Should I be consistent here?

Grant me the flexibility to try new things in situations in which changed behavior will pay off, the steadfastness to be consistent in situations in which changed behavior will not pay off, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The wisdom is the ability to minimize both regretted yes’s and regretted no’s on the question "Should I be consistent here?" because the last thing I want is the flexibility to try new things in situations in which changed behavior will not pay off, or the steadfastness to be consistent in situations in which changed behavior will pay off.

Of course the challenge is that which situations are the ones in which changed behavior will pay off can’t be known for sure until tomorrow, and I have to decide today.

4. Should I try to change this?

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The wisdom here is the ability to minimize both regretted yes’s and regretted no’s on the question "Should I try to change this?" because the last thing I want is the serenity to accept the things that will prove changeable or the courage to try to change the things that will not prove changeable.

Of course, the challenge is that what can be changed can’t be known for sure until tomorrow, and I have to decide today.

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Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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