It’s not that you need a prescription for insanity, but here’s a certain one nonetheless: Find something that is wrong in the world, but something you can’t do anything about. Obsess over it, never letting it go. Rail against it, though your demands can’t be heard. Grab that problem by the throat and keep shaking it like a terrier with a chew toy. You’ll end up embittered, joyless, and more or less madder than a hatter.
If you doubt my prescription, simply look around you. Things we are powerless to do anything about are constantly on our minds and on our lips. These dominate every conversation, every social media posting, and every private moment of reflection. Is it any secret why our society is so dizzily berserk?
Maybe the immortal words of Kris Kristofferson get right to the point: “Tell the truth, stand your ground, and don’t let the bastards get you down.” And the truth is, you can only do what you can do, standing your own ground. To do otherwise, preoccupying yourself with things that you cannot change, will only bring you down.
If good, old Kris is too forward for you, try praying Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Yes, there are things we can do, things that we can change – about ourselves, about our communities, about our society, and about our neighborhoods. We should work tirelessly to that end, building a more just, compassionate, merciful world; a world where we “keep hatred from the mighty, and the mighty from the small” (to quote another immortal, Stevie Wonder).
But be warned: There are some things that we can’t “fix.” We can rage. We can cry. We can jump up and down, kick and scream. We can get caught up in the righteousness of it all, using words like “ought” and “should” and “need.” As in, “This is how they ‘ought’ to act…what ‘should’ be done…what ‘needs’ to happen.” But we can’t change it.
Defeatism? No. It is the wisdom of the ages. There is great peace to be found in doing the work you can do, even if you fail, because you can live with the fact that you did all that could be done. But there is no satisfaction in trying to do what cannot be done. There is only frustration and insanity.
Each of us have only so much time to spend, so much energy to burn, and so much focus to give. Target those things that you can do something about, and pray for the courage to act accordingly. Pivot away from the consuming resentment of simply being “against” something – especially those things and people that you cannot control – and throw yourself wholeheartedly into what can be championed and transformed. For the best critique of what is wrong, is to do within your power, what is right.
Photo by Elijah O’Donell