GREY MUTTER: These days people are complaining, grumbling or just silently dissatisfied with so many little things. But ‘little’ doesn’t mean insignificant, writes Lance Fredericks.
THOSE senior years in high school, days that I look back to with such fondness these days, were as I recall, also filled with some pretty intense jostling and competition.
Now to clarify, when I say “senior years”, I will have you know that by the time we reached Standard 8 (today’s Grade 10) as far as we were concerned, we had arrived; we knew everything there was to know about everything and we were ready to take on the world
These days I look at Grade 10s and though I see mere children, I remind myself how grown-up and mature I felt when I was their age.
Now about that competitiveness during those senior school years, there was one particular contest that was especially keen. Our class’s boys were highly competitive when it came to shoe shining. We would sometimes spend entire intervals buffing our shoes to a mirror-like lustre.
And we had our favourite supplies to give ourselves the edge. Remember, micro-fibre cloths hadn’t been invented back then, so some of us would have cloths that were repurposed T-shirts or vests; others would have buffing pads made from a wad of old pantihose – we assumed that it was from a mother, sister or aunt, of course.
The yellow duster was a popular cloth back then; they were everywhere, but they were not suitable for shoe shining. They left bits of fluff, and one speck of fluff on a shined shoe at the time that the competition was judged could see you disqualified from the competition.
Our ‘meticulous’ was ridiculous!
Just imagine for a moment how intensely competitors’ shoes were examined. One speck of dust or fluff, one smudge or scuff or fingerprint and your chances of being crowned champion were… wiped away.
And that is the point I am trying to make: small things can make a big difference.
It’s like when you’re trying to sleep on a hot summer night. Let’s assume that in your bedroom you have a large built-in cupboard, a generous sized bed, a comfy pillow and a bureau with drawers holding your T-shirts, vests and pantihose – unless your son in Grade 10 needed it to shine his shoes.
But into all this comfort, insert one persistent, whining mosquito. Suddenly nothing else in the room matters; it’s that one small thing that has to be dealt with, while everything else seems to fade into insignificance.
Something similar happens when you’re cooking. There you are in a kitchen with a large table, a refrigerator, a stove, a few cupboards and the washing-up sink. But into all of this, insert a single, grubby, disgusting, buzzy fly.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when there’s a fly around when I am trying to cook, everything takes the back seat – priority one will be the elimination of the insect; My motto: Until I eliminate Mr Fly, nothing on the stove is going to fry!
Who has experienced the discomfort of an ingrown hair a few days after shaving? What about having something stuck in your teeth and there’s no floss or toothpicks nearby? I have also heard that getting a tiny seed caught under one’s dentures can be excruciating; even something the size of a tomato seed apparently. A speck of dust or an eyelash in the eye and it feels like your eyelid has turned into a sheet of coarse sandpaper.
Yeah, I am more convinced than ever that small things are, in fact, a big issue.
Someone once shared with me the metaphor of the nail, which illustrates the significance of addressing seemingly minor issues as a matter of urgency. Though its origins remain unclear, variations of this little paragraph can be traced back as early as the 13th century.
It goes: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
What we have to consider is that these days people are complaining, grumbling or just silently dissatisfied with so, so many little things. For example, most households have several water bottles stored for those days when there’s no water in the taps, while some homes have water storage tanks. Practically every household has candles or rechargeable lamps for when the lights go out.
I assume that every neighbourhood in our city has its own emergency chat group, because break-ins are the order of the day.
I visited my doctor the other day and he was impressed at how ripped and toned my arms and shoulders were, despite the fact that I sit at a desk all day. I had to explain to him that my arms get plenty of exercise as I swerve around avoiding potholes, and pedestrians who now walk in the road and not on the sidewalks in our city.
The thing is, all these complaints and gripes by the man in the street may seem like petty and trivial tantrums, but if those in responsible positions step back and take stock of how many little gripes there are, they’d have to come to grips with the fact that all these ‘smalls’ make one intimidating ‘big’.
I have to admit that I agree with what Witter Bynner is credited with saying: “The biggest problem in the world could have been solved when it was small.”
But then again, maybe that’s what election campaigns are all about. It helps those with power and influence to be noticed when they make those big, impressive changes.
Regrettably, society often applauds individuals who swoop in as heroes to address major issues, while those diligently addressing smaller problems may go unnoticed.
Regardless, it is essential to do what is right. Invariably, prevention is better than cure. So even if ‘small-problem-solvers’ receive little recognition for averting significant issues or catastrophes, their constant, diligent efforts contribute to making the world a better place.
So to those of you who spend your days fixing the little things without much reward or fanfare, thank you!
You are the heroes.