“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The first-line of the well-known Serenity Prayer begs the question: what can I change? We can change our thinking, our attitude, and our behavior (“TAB”).
What is meant by “attitude”? The Oxford Pocket Dictionary provides this simple definition of attitude: “posture of body: settled behavior as showing opinion; way of mind.” More than a few times my father said to me, “watch your attitude, son!” Imagine the posture of a spoiled child who refuses to do what he is told; see all the body language and hear the whiny tone of voice saying “I don’t wanna go to Church. I wanna play baseball with my friends.”
Imagine my surprise when years later I had the chance to sit in the pilot’s seat of an airplane and hear my father, who learned how to fly B-17 bombers during WWII, say “watch your attitude, son.” This time his admonition had an analogous meaning: he meant that I should fly the plane level with the horizon. One of the airplane instruments indicates the plane’s “attitude”. The instrument is like a compass with a horizontal line across it and it has a little image of an airplane. The image indicates the position of the wings with respect to the horizon. The idea is to keep the wings of the airplane in line, level with, the horizon line. When one wing tips down below the horizon the other tips up, then the body of the plane tips, or rotates, the same way, at the same angle. If the angle becomes too steep the plane could go into a spiral, control would be lost, and a crash imminent. On this day, I learned what my father was trying to teach me when he used to say “watch your attitude, son!”
Just as we have to “watch our attitude” to avoid a plane crash, we have to watch our attitude towards others to avoid a clash, to avoid harm to ourselves and to others. We need to retain control to fly right, and in this journey of life on earth we need to maintain the proper attitude toward people, places, and things. If our attitude is wrong, then we are in danger. On the other hand, when our behavior shows a poor opinion of someone, then can read this behavior; they can discern our poor attitude towards them, and in the words of an unknown sage: what goes around comes around. We will get a bad attitude directed right back at us. When our way of thinking is pessimistic, sarcastic, or critical—to name just a few of the many negative views of life we might adopt for ourselves—then we will begin a death spiral.
On the other hand, we can change our attitude and fly right. When our attitude is right the view is great; it’s serene!
— Br. James Lindsay