We have all heard that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Letting oneself get stressed out over the little things in life is one of the biggest ways to bring unnecessary grief into life’s path. We can avoid a lot of negative feelings, and even health problems, simply by learning not to let the little things get to us.
Imagine, if you will, that you’re driving your car. You’re waiting to turn left at a green light; there is a car approaching straight ahead. You hesitate accordingly. It is at this juncture that the driver behind you honks his horn.
A simple illustration such as this I believe successfully captures both the sweat and the size of the annoyance. Unless you’re one of those imaginary Christians who embrace beneficence at any cost, I’m guessing the account irritates to an Olympic degree. It may even enflame astonishingly base recriminations and inclinations, the rapture of which would be a disgrace to report.
What however is not so self-evident in this otherwise selfless tale is the state of mind of the driver who honked the horn. It has to be an uncalculated obstruction of sociability that we assume everyone else should behave with civility while we alone are entitled from time to time to be upset and tolerated accordingly for the slip. To acknowledge that others have worry, that maybe things aren’t going at all well for them, is not a submission, it’s a perception. Yet so often we initiate a putative enquiry into the alleged male fides of the culprit by presuming he hadn’t the intellect to think rationally, that he were governed by blunt response to the five senses. Ironically if we encountered the same jerk at a gas station we’d no doubt characterize the fellow more charitably. The only thing common to the two instances – on the road or in the gas station – is the parties to them. This tells me that cooperation is required to settle any difference – and this hopefully in lieu of physical or verbal abuse.
When attempting to cope with the small stuff the more valuable reward – apart from the avoidance of conflict – is the strengthening of the sinews of one’s mind. The business of thinking and the cultivation of the habit is a much underrated resource. It may in addition have value as well to recollect that we see in others what we see in ourselves; that criticism is the best autobiography. Clearly this ungrudging posture violates every instinct of survival. But – and this may help preserve the elemental feature of the assertion – there is something to gain. Foremost is the dignity of the acknowledgement. What degradation to admit being intrigued by an impetuous parp! It is the stuff of nursery school. If you find it impossible to adopt such outright altruism it may assist to dismiss the infection by rising above it all and projecting in your finest performance of haughtiness that it is the privilege of the masses to mock their betters. In these intimate matters of insult and paramountcy the goal is distraction at whatever cost. If all that fails, you may – as the late Raymond Algernon Jamieson, QC once remarked when assessing an idle complaint he’d overheard – “Let the shit go down the street!”; or, as the late Louis de la Chesnaye Audette, QC OC similarly observed when commenting upon a conflict he’d endured, “Stand back and let it go by!”
Not all the small stuff involves others. In those instances of private remorse the prescription for elevation is more critical because we tend to be harder on ourselves than others. Unless you thrive upon misadventure it is worth noting that sweating the small stuff on an entirely personal level is no more adventitious than doing so publicly. Here again I refer you to the axiomatic proposition that we have only the present to deal with. Being preoccupied with or persuaded by the past or the future is a logical absurdity – neither exists! Hence we are unwittingly bound by the capacity and expanse of the present; and it follows as well that if we improve our present – or do what we can to do so – we’re headed in the right direction, neither backward nor preposterously forward.
Life – like everything else – is nothing more than a consolidation of the small stuff. It is for this reason we have difficulty defining ourselves, our nature, our customs, our experiences and preferences – we’re submerged in detail and what often constitutes minutiae. While there are generalizations there are no grand events in life, at least not among the people I know. The fertile realm of life is but a collection of small stuff, a succession of episodes. The tip toe through the tulips is forever a gamble to step on something mistakenly.