Down with Serenity

There are words I’d like to outlaw, at least temporarily. Respective is one. You could show me a hundred sentences containing the word respective, and in most of them it would be a meaningless and unnecessary word. I think we’d all be better off if we stopped using the word respective.

OK – maybe you agree with me about respective. But I want to write about another word I dislike, and so far I’ve never met anyone who sees it the way I do: Serenity. The Serenity Prayer is a wonderful bit of wisdom that has benefited many people, including me. The idea that there are things I can’t change, and I just need to let them go, is a lesson I’m still trying to learn.

So what’s wrong with the word serenity, and what does it have to do with writing? The answer to both questions is a lot. First, attaining serenity is an unrealistic goal much of the time. Humans just aren’t wired for serenity. We’re agitated, uneasy, frustrated, obsessed…anything but serene. What happens next is that we start beating ourselves over the head because we’re feeling lousy (even if there’s a perfectly good reason for the way we’re feeling).

On to writing. If you happen to be feeling serene today, and you decide to write about it, your piece is probably going to be…dull.

Good writing is edgy, provocative, and unpredictable. It’s personal. Serenity, by contrast, strips away all the callouses and rawness that make us human. You lose your voice and your individuality – the very qualities I look for when I read. I want your piece to sound as if only you could have written it.

So if you’re sitting on a cloud and dispensing wisdom, congratulations! You’ve attained a rare level of spiritual development. But you’re not going to be very interesting until something (or someone) bumps you off that cloud and makes you struggle to refind your balance.

That’s what I want to read about.





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