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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 28-Apr-06


Friday 28-Apr-06

Idea viruses

Here is a little prayer that has done the rounds for many years that has strayed far beyond religious circles.

Lord 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.

But why is this? Why do some ideas spread and thrive when others die in early youth? It does seem to be something to do with how you feel when you hear it. When I first heard the above prayer, I felt a physical tingle as my mind acknowledge the truism. 'Yes, that's really true' I told myself as I attempted to commit it to memory so I could tell other people.

And so ideas and the things that tickle us spread, from prayers to products. A classic analogy is the virus, which infects us and leaps from person to person. This principle was described by Richard Dawkins, in his classic book 'The Selfish Gene', where he called the thought virus a 'meme'. And so the science of memetics was born, although the notion had previously been explored under the heading 'The Diffusion of Innovations', an area much investigated by anthropologists. Marketers have also picked up on both of these in the diffusion lifecycle and 'viral marketing'.

Ideas, like viruses will morph and change to fit the situation. I found a neat parody of the Serenity prayer at a librarian's site:

Lord grant me...
the Serenity to accept that not everything can be found on the Internet...
the Courage to go to the Library...
and the Wisdom to evaluate the information I do find.

Aha! Another truism. And so some people who read this will spread the mutated virus further.

Your comments

I saw this once and had the same sense of rightness about the saying.

I don't know if people had heard the Budweiser advert but for a time everybody was going "Waaaaasss up" to each other.

I think that might count as a meme.

-- Alex

Dave replies:
Absolutely. An advertiser that creates a meme -- an idea that spreads, even through social 'fun' will gain enormous credibility (and probably a very big bonus!).

This post reminds me of the articles regarding propaganda I read on this website. The said propaganda appealed to people's interests and values- things they had developed early in on life, subconsciously based on what appealed to them and what they cared about. It seems like this prayer was intended to give people the serenity to accept things they actually could not change, like their physical appearance, ethnicity, or other such things. However, I think today, people pray for the serenity to accept things they are too lazy or too apathetic to change, like how people see them or the state of the world. I think people feel more driven to change the things that are parallel with their interests, and I think these interests are largely shaped by society, i.e. propaganda or advertisements, as Alex points out.

-- Sabina (x3b)


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