Aah, yes, the “don’t sweat the small stuff” argument. It’s as familiar as Wonder bread in a sacrament tray.
Imagine a man in a rowboat riding so low in the water it’s about to sink. For some reason, the boat is half full of gravel. The “straining at gnats” argument is the equivalent of giving the man a scale and telling him it only makes sense to throw rocks overboard that weigh at least pound. Anything under that, and he’s just wasting his time picking at nits. After all, how could a small pebble that weighs a fraction of ounce really matter?
I imagine the guy in the rowboat painstakingly weighing each of the hundreds of thousands of small pebbles, deciding each time that the pebble is too light to merit the effort required to discard it.
I remember hearing about an interesting scam. Two individuals, one black and the other white, pretend to get into a heated debate in a public place about racism and trust. They intentionally draw a bystander into their debate. One of them proposes a test of their willingness to trust strangers of another race. He hands his wallet to one of the other two and says he is going to walk around the block. He trusts them, he says. He leaves and returns a few minutes later. The second individual does the same. Then it’s the bystander’s turn. It’s surprising how many times the bystander will surrender his or her wallet—only to return to discover that his or her trust was misplaced.
Why would anyone give up their wallet in this situation? After having lost their wallets, individuals will often admit they were suspicious. But the weight of the larger issues—issues of race, and trust, and their willingness to believe in the basic goodness of other human beings–trumped their concerns. So what if the guy on the left in the baseball cap looked a little less than trustworthy? So what if the argument they’d been drawn into seemed a little contrived? They didn’t want to strain at gnats. They focused on the big picture. And the big picture, of course, required them to hand over their wallets and take a walk around the block.
Take the issue of women in the church, for example. It is often the equivalent of death by a thousand paper cuts—each cut insignificant, considered independently. After, all does it really matter that girls’ dress is policed more carefully than that of their male counterparts? That more weight is given to male milestones in the church? That more funding and attention is directed to male programs? That males receive more encouragement to think carefully about a career? That the opinions and spiritual insights of women in the ward carry less weight in PEC? And on, and on, and on. Each perhaps a trivial concern in the grand scheme of things. Taken together, they are the gravel that sinks the rowboat.
“That pebble? I can’t believe you’d be concerned about something that trivial,” they’ll say. And each time, you’ll have to explain what should be obvious. Small things matter—and enough small things matter a lot.
[Last Post: 30 Higher Education?]