By Henrylito D. Tacio
When someone tells you, “Sweat the small stuff,” what he means is you need to worry about minor things.
More often than not, however, people don’t pay attention to those small things. They think of big things instead of concentrating on minute details. But that should not be the case. As Henri Frederic Amiel puts it: “What we call little things are merely the causes of great things; they are the beginning, the embryo, and it is the point of departure which, generally speaking, decides the whole future of an existence. One single black speck may be the beginning of gangrene, of a storm, of a revolution.”
Benjamin Franklin also said: “A small leak can sink a great ship.”
In The Battle of the Labyrinth, author Rick Riordan wrote, “As a mortal, I was never a great fighter or athlete or poet. I only made wine. The people in my village laughed at me. They said I would never amount to anything. Look at me now. Sometimes, small things can become very large indeed.”
Let’s take the case of one. You start counting with one before you reach 100. A hundred is not a hundred without one. But one is a small number. So much so that no one seems to pay with one. What is one against the 99 others?
When it comes to elections, one vote can make a difference. Most people definitely think that one vote is just one vote. But there have been cases in which one vote decided an election.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected President by one vote in the House of Representatives after a tie in the Electoral College. In 1876, Samuel Tilden won the popular presidential vote but came up one electoral vote shy and lost to Rutherford B. Hayes, who became the 9th president of the United States.
During the 1910 elections for New York’s congressional district, Charles B. Smith polled 20,685 votes while his opponent received 20,684 votes. The one-vote margin made him the winner.
In India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost the no-confidence motion and his Prime Ministership in the Parliament by a single vote in 1999. In Great Britain, Conservative Henry Duke maintained his seat in the House of Commons table by getting 4,777 to his opponent’s 4,776.
Little things mean a lot, so goes a popular saying. That must have been true in the past. But people in the modern world don’t believe in it anymore. Take the case of sleep. People these days are sleeping less and less. And the price – nothing except that the person is getting bigger, literally. The less a person sleeps, the higher his body mass index tends to be.
Recent studies have shown that people who sleep five hours a night were found to have 15 percent more ghrelin (a hormone that boosts hunger) in their bodies and 15 percent less leptin (which suppresses it) than those sleeping the required eight hours.
In addition, people who spend less time sleeping are in grave danger. A large-scale study concluded that people who sleep six to seven hours a night lived longer than those sleeping less than 4.5 hours.
Now, there’s truth to what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, “It has long been an axiom of mine that little things are infinitely the most important.”
In other words, we should sweat the small stuff – again!
Look at the water, which covers more than two-thirds of the earth’s surface. But only 2.5 percent of that water is freshwater. And 99.7 percent of that freshwater is unavailable, trapped in glaciers, ice sheets, and mountainous areas. This means that about 0.3 percent of the planet’s fresh water is shared by all inhabitants.
Unknowingly, it’s that small stuff that makes this world a better place to live: a long-distance call from your daughter now living in the United States, a small talk with your best friend whom you have not seen since high school graduation, a thank you note from one of your students, a special pen from your boss as his way of appreciation for a job well done, a sudden hug from your five-year-old niece.
Never neglect the little things, urges bestselling author Og Mandino. “Never skimp on that extra effort, that additional few minutes, that soft word of praise or thanks, that delivery of the very best that you can do. It doesn’t matter what others think, it is of prime importance, however, what you think about you. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibilities. You are special. Act it. Never neglect the little things.”
Mary Ann Kelty also reminds us: “Small kindnesses, small courtesies, small considerations, habitually practiced in our social intercourse, give a greater charm to the character than the display of great talents and accomplishments.”
Yes, it’s the small things that matter.
Retired American Brigadier General Robinson Risner was a prisoner of war for more than seven years. He was in solitary confinement for five of those years. He suffered from cold, heat, malnutrition, and lack of fresh air. He was totally deprived of any human comfort. He jogged in his cell by the hour. When he became frustrated, he had to scream, he stuffed his underwear into his mouth to muffle the scream. He would not give his captors the satisfaction of knowing his frustration.
One day, in depths of despair, General Risner lay down on the floor and looked all around his small rectangular-shaped cell. He put his eye next to the cinder blocks, hoping there would be a crack in one of them. Fortunately, there was a minute opening, and he saw a single leaf. Later, when he was released, he told the press that seeing “that evidence of life outside” was a “tremendously uplifting and life-changing event.”
“Inch by inch,” said Robert H. Schuller, “it’s a cinch.” We don’t count to one hundred immediately without starting from number one. A child starts to walk with a single step. A Persian proverb pinpoints, “Do little things now, so shall big things come to thee by and by asking to be done.”
Everything in this world is small stuff. And they all matter. I was reminded of a story shared by Vincent Barry in his book, The Dog Ate My Homework: Personal Responsibility – How We Avoid It and What to Do About It.
At one time, Barry witnessed an argument between a shopper and a produce manager. While the shopper (a mother) was carefully selecting grapes, her son was also eating some of the fruits. The manager gently informed the child that the grapes were for sale, not sampling. The mother sprang to her child’s defense. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she said indignantly. “It’s such a small thing.”
Barry wrote his observation: “I wondered where she’d draw the line between ‘small’ and ‘big.’ Perhaps at the point of peeling, as with oranges. The only distinction the child made was between what he wanted and what he didn’t. And he wanted those grapes.
Whether the mother corrected her son in private, no one knew. “But her public message was clear and direct: stealing ‘small stuff’ is okay; indeed, it’s not really stealing at all,” Barry concluded.
Saying “I’m sorry,” “I need you,” or “I love you” seems trivial. Unknowingly, we rob the recipients of the joy of hearing those small words. An unknown poet penned these words as a reminder: “Far too many times we let unimportant things into our minds, and then it’s usually too late to see what made us blind.
“So be sure that you let people know how much they mean to you. Take that time to say the words before your time is through. Be sure that you appreciate everything you’ve got. And be thankful for the little things in life that mean a lot.”