Serenity Prayer - slightly OT

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 14 16:46:36 UTC 2008

Some versions of the SP talk about courage to change what can be changed, which seems like a nonsensical compulsion to change things for the sake of change.  The way I look at it is that "can be changed" implicitly means "can be changed and should be changed."

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Benjamin Zimmer [bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU]
Sent: Monday, July 14, 2008 11:11 AM
Subject: Re: Serenity Prayer - slightly OT

On Mon, Jul 14, 2008 at 8:10 AM, Bethany Dumas <bethany.dumas at> wrote:
> Thanks for all the posts re the Serenity Prayer. I have long used it and
> valued it, even wondered about its elusive history, even though I have also
> long thought that it needs revision. It recognizes that some things can be
> changed, while some things cannot be changed, and it recognizes the
> importance of serenity, courage, and wisdom. But it fails to recognize
> something equally important, I think - some things DO NOT NEED TO BE
> CHANGED. My experience is that it is not always clear to humans that that is
> true.
> Fred, perhaps you will find an early revised version.

To be fair, Neibuhr's 1943 formulation included "courage to change the
things that *should* be changed." And various other versions use
"should," "can and should," "ought to," etc.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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