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 Serenity Prayer)

Several years ago, when my mother had severe dementia and was extremely ornery and contrary, my sister suggested that I read and remember the Serenity Prayer. I did, and it helped me accept the extreme changes in my mother that I could not control or do anything about.

Recent events have brought this prayer to mind once again. My husband is undergoing heart bypass surgery as this blog is being posted.  It is not the surgery that brings the prayer to mind but rather my husband’s reaction. He is a lawyer and an extreme control freak. He oversees his own law practice and is used to being the “boss”. What bothers him most is his loss of control not only over his own law practice (He will be recovering at home for several weeks.) but essentially over his own life. It is in the hands of medical professionals, and as his field of law is totally alien to medicine, he is a “stranger in a strange land.” (Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert C. Heinlein (1961)) As opposed to accepting his fate, he has been fighting it with all his might. Naturally, this has made it worse for all of us, especially me. Not only must I deal with the trauma of a husband undergoing major surgery and recovery but also the stress of his refusal to cede control over that which he has no control in the first place. He does not yet have the wisdom to know the difference over that which he can control and that which is out of his hands to do anything about.

I see many attorneys in mediation who are much like my husband: control freaks who do not have the wisdom to recognize that certain things are indeed beyond their control. Instead, they try to control every aspect of the litigation, not recognizing that the other side has its own perspective- a view very much different than theirs. It makes for a very fractious mediation. While I am the first to recognize that every attorney has an obligation to represent her  client zealously and to the utmost of her ability, there is also a point at which wisdom should kick in: that the request that the attorney is making in settlement is much like repeatedly hitting one’s head against a brick wall expecting a different result each time. It just ain’t gonna happen.

It would probably do us all good to remember the Serenity Prayer, no matter what our situation or the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  There are some things we can control, others we cannot. We must learn to accept that we cannot control everything and everyone in life, the courage to change what we can control and most of all, the wisdom to know the difference.

…. Just something to think about.

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By Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis G. Pollack is a full time neutral in Los Angeles where, as President of PGP Mediation, she focuses on business, real estate, contract and “lemon law” disputes. She may be reached at Phone: 213-630-8810 / phyllis@pgpmediation.com / Website: www.pgpmediation.com