Accept the World Exactly as It Is, and then Go Try to Make It Better

This is my motto, insofar as I have one.

It’s a modified version of the Serenity Prayer, oft-recited at alcoholics anonymous:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The problem with the Serenity Prayer is that, until you try, it’s hard to know what you can change and what you can’t. And even after a quarter century studying philosophy, I don’t pretend to have the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change. And I don’t think God is quite that straightforward in providing His answers.

So in my version, I just try to accept everything, without criticism or complaint, just as it is.

I’m not perfect or close to living up to that standard, but that’s what I aspire to do. The world has plenty of flaws. My life has plenty of flaws. My government has plenty of flaws. Those around me have plenty of flaws. I have plenty of flaws. But I try to accept them as reality, and I try not to focus on them too much.

But I don’t think you can stop there.

The problem with accepting everything is that it makes it easy for people with negative intentions or those lost in their own fog to make the world a worse place, so it’s critical for people with good intentions and a little motivation to work to counteract those people.

That’s what the second part of the motto is about, trying to make things better. For me, it’s mostly about problems right in front of me. Trying to be kinder to those around me; trying to make a small impact with my words and with my actions. Maybe washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Maybe picking up dog shit in a park, even if it didn’t come from my dogs.

If you want to take on bigger problems, that’s great, too. As long as you’re not an asshole as you’re claiming to make the world a better place (I’ve met lots of those people), then I’m your biggest fan. I respect the hell out of people who dedicate their lives to working on big problems. Lord knows there’s no shortage of problems that need solving. Pick one and dedicate days, or weeks, or the rest of your life trying to solving it.

If you’re serious about it, you’ll never get bored.

But yeah, that’s pretty much it. If had to pick one sentence that summarized my philosophy on how I try to live my life, this would be it:

Accept the world exactly as it is, and then go about your day trying to make it better.

When I remember to think this way, I don’t get too hung up on life’s ups and downs.

And I never run out of things to do.