Should we or shouldn't we ever put our attention on the negative? Maybe there's something we need to discern about this, to avoid confusing ourselves and perpetuating negativity that ought to be given our attention.
What do we think or believe negativity to be? Is it whatever doesn't feel good to or for us individually? What about whatever doesn't feel good to or for others or the collective humanity we are part of, as well? We aren't meant to dwell on or in negativity in a manner that does no good for us or others, but we have to watch that we don't stick our heads in the sand either, when we should be taking a closer look at something. Let's consider this and what we often do and might do differently about negativity and negative experiences, through something most people are aware of.
Here's the first part of the "Serenity Prayer" most of us are familiar with and frequently use or refer to:
Here's the same first part of the "Serenity Prayer," as its author Reinhold Niebahr wrote it and intended it to be reflected upon and used:
An initial difference between the two versions that got my attention is how each starts. The altered version has no comma after God, but the original version does. The comma indicates a direct, personal conversation with the Creator of All Things is being held (just as it does in rules of punctuation), whereas the absence of it in the altered version makes it seem removed and rote, as though we're repeating words to ourselves in the hope it—the repetition—will make the difference.
In the altered version, it's all about the "I," the individual. It asks for "me" to be granted serenity, as though serenity must be provided to us or we don't or won't or can't have it. And the word granted is something of a subservient term, as when someone in "authority" grants a favor, but it comes with a price or an obligation, that is, if it's granted. It states serenity is needed in order to accept the things "I" cannot change. This can be problematic because we humans are known to confuse (or ignore) the difference between cannot and will not.
The altered version asks to be granted the courage to change the things "I" can. We're faced with the same cannot/will not conundrum. How many things are there that you believe need to change but you also believe you are powerless to do anything about them? (Perhaps, as an individual this is sometimes true, but as a group or collective, it isn't.)
It asks for the wisdom to know the difference—the difference to know what you can't change and what you can. Well, depending on what you believe you are capable of and what you know or don't know your Rights to be, that could be an interesting form of wisdom that reflects more of an "I'll do it if it's convenient or comfortable and doesn't require too much of me" kind of scenario.
The original version is about "us," we as individuals, as well as humanity as an aggregate or collective of individuals sharing the human experience. The original version requests grace to be given, as a gift, with no strings attached. If we truly understand what the Creator has given us, we understand that that grace has already been given; that acting with grace is always a choice. And, "to accept with serenity" reminds us that we have a choice to accept with resistance or anger or serenity—that is, to make peace with the fact of what cannot be changed.
The original writing makes it clear there are some things that cannot be changed. Such things include the Natural Laws the Creator of the Universe put into effect to assist us to raise our Consciousness so we do a good job as co-creators and with how we operate within our individual and shared physical reality (To exercise Consciousness is to interact with Truth more often than not interact with it, to marry our perceptions with Truth so that our perceptions more closely and frequently align or intersect with Truth); death (once it's happened and we're sure the person is beyond resuscitation); any event that has already taken place and is factually irreversible; gravity; and so forth.
It asks for courage, which we can infer means to assist or remind us to use inner strength to make the choice to engage our courage to change the things which should be changed. This wording is a whole different ball of wax from the altered version, isn't it? It's a statement that recognizes that part of our human nature is to at times be so fearful or unmotivated that we won't change even what should be changed. And, it points out that there are, indeed, some things that should be changed. The problem with the altered version is that it implies if something doesn't affect "me" (or "me" too badly), "I" shouldn't necessarily do anything about it or give it another thought.
Then, we request the Wisdom (capitalized in the original version, to indicate a higher level of knowledge and common sense, rather than a personal opinion) to distinguish the one from the other: Things that cannot be changed (have happened or are Natural Laws and cannot be altered) and things that should be changed (require our attention and right action). Neibahr meant for all of us to practice this version particularly because our individual and collective behaviors influence the conditions we share, and the conditions we share influence our individual and collective behaviors.
There are levels of negativity, and negativity happens in degrees. Therefore, our responses must be appropriate and in appropriate measure.
There's the level of the individual experience and expression of negative thoughts, words, and actions. Reasons for this negativity vary: learned behavior, chosen behavior, depression or some other form of psychosis, sleep deprivation, chemical imbalance, physical or emotional pain, overwhelm, to list some prevalent ones. About each of these, something can be done. The individual has the Free Will Right to choose to do or not to do something about it, especially to do no harm or stop harm to the self and or others, unless something specific impedes this, like a mental or physical infirmity that makes right or conscious choice impossible.
There's the level of an individual, but usually more than just one individual experiencing and expressing negative thoughts, words, and actions, where Rights of individuals in any number are infringed on or taken away. We might call these basic Rights or Freedoms, in accordance with Natural Laws, which are different than man-made laws. About this form of negativity, something should be done. Individuals, whether alone or who are members of a group or collective, have the Free Will Right to choose to do or not do something about this. Again, our individual and collective behaviors influence the conditions we share, and the conditions we share influence our individual and collective behaviors.
I watched The Truman Show recently, and was affected by a dialogue line that was spoken by a fake radio announcer: "Don't think about that. Sit back and enjoy this relaxing music." The advice to not think about that (don't give it another thought) referred to something anomalous that happened and had gotten Truman's attention, causing him to question its strangeness or not-rightness. After that anomalous event, the practice of diverting Truman's attention from what the reality or truth was, worked only for so long, until he began to come out of his mental fog (or ambivalence) and pay more attention to what was really going on than he had been. The more attention he paid the more the truth was revealed.
Carl Jung: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable, and therefore, not popular." This can refer to the darkness that is negativity, as well as lack of true Consciousness and willingness to attain it within each of us, as well as within our collective humanity.
None of us wants to see or experience negativity. But we need to understand there's a difference between dwelling on it and not doing anything about it at any level other than complain, or tolerate it in silence, and putting our attention on it to understand it better so we can and will do something about it, so that we, hopefully, can prevent more of the same from happening again. Part of the New Age information has been that if we focus on something negative, we give it power. We've interpreted this to mean we shouldn't give it any of our attention. Is the true power, especially to effect change, in whether or not we put our attention on the negativity, or is the true power in the individual? There's a difference between feeding negativity and not feeding it, ignoring it and shifting it. Had Truman believed the power was in the illusion and those supporting it and not in him and his desire for truth, he'd have remained trapped, used, and miserable.
One of the most powerful things we can do is to say No to perpetuating negativity or creating new negativity. If something has already happened, we can choose the grace to accept the fact of it with serenity (for our best benefit and clear-mindedness) and choose the courage to change whatever about it should be and can be changed. We need to consider that maybe it isn't that we shouldn't put attention on the negative, but that we should put the right kind of attention on it, as well as on the desired result of our attention; then, take right action to attain or accomplish it or something even better.
We could lessen or eliminate some of the negativity in our individual and shared experiences if we did give negativity another thought—the right kind of thought so that we can demonstrate our power to do more than what we may have been doing. It's a good practice, one you'll appreciate.
Practice makes progress.