11. “And the wisdom to KNOW the difference.”
As I have mentioned repeatedly here, the words of the Serenity Prayer were familiar and simple ones. I instinctively knew (or thought I knew) what each word meant. I prayed the prayer thousands of times, perfectly content that I understood what I was saying. But the 1934 Webster’s Dictionary changed all of that.
Definition: “Know v. to perceive directly”.
If I thought this short word had a simple definition, I had guessed wrong. I thought of “knowledge” as information which I keep inside my head and retrieve when I need it. Thus, to “know” something meant to already have it in my mind. For example, in fifth grade, I was expected to know the capitals of all the states—which meant I had to memorize them.
The dictionary that was printed the same year as the Serenity prayer provoked me. It said “to know” meant “to perceive directly.” In the context of the prayer, I am asking God to help me perceive the difference between things which I… 1) can change and 2) cannot change.
The old dictionary suggested to me that the facts inside my head won’t help me. I would even go farther and say that I cannot memorize the various things I can change and cannot change. Life is simply too complex and its situations too variable for me to lazily rely on my old definition of knowing.
The drawing for the word “Know” came seemingly out of nowhere. I had sketched an old man tuning a piano shortly before reading the definition. Something about that wizened old figure spoke to years and years and years of experience at piano tuning. Yet when confronted with TODAY’s piano, he had to intensely focus all of his perceptive powers in order to put it into tune. In theory, the tuning fork tells him the correct pitch, yet an inexperience person could struggle for hours, trying to make the piano match that perfect tone.
Having seen a few people, tune pianos, I know they go into an almost trance-like state. They carry the same tuning fork to each job, but must confront hundreds of variations and nuances that make every piano unique. The tuner cannot walk up to an unfamiliar piano and KNOW that piano inside their head immediately. They must instead delve into the instrument until they PERCEIVE what makes it unique. Only then can they begin the work of tuning it.
What makes this definition unique is its warning not to automatically apply old solutions to new situations. In many ways, that was my problem before recovery—I was reacting in a knee-jerk way rather than thinking and feeling about each unique situation.
When I say the Serenity Prayer now, my wish is for my Higher Power to make my mind supple, not rigid. And to allow me to perceive rather than prejudge. Just by saying the prayer, I can feel a quietness descend which leaves me ready to receive new knowledge.