Sometimes a phrase becomes popular and we start using it without even thinking about how it might sound. We use it inappropriately. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, is one of those. My response, “Who are you to decide what is “small stuff” for me?” Sometimes it’s said this way, “That’s not such a big deal.” Or, “What’s the big deal?” Hey, I’ve thought it myself. I don’t think I’ve verbalized it so much but I’ve certainly thought it. So have you.
I guess one of the reasons we do that is because we are keenly aware of what’s going on in our own lives and if we’re dealing with some really “big” stuff, it’s only natural we would categorize everyone else’s complaints as minor. I can remember when my husband had a heart attack and subsequent open-heart surgery and I would hear patient’s families talking about their loved one who had just had some minor surgery. Seriously, people? I was wrong to react that way. Yes, by anyone’s definition, what my husband and I were dealing with was far more frightening. But no one can walk in someone else’s shoes.
What is small stuff to one person isn’t small to another. An example: one person drops a glass. It shatters. No big deal. They shrug it off. Another person drops a glass. It shatters. The person falls apart. If it were two movies we were watching simultaneously, we might wonder why the one fell apart and the other didn’t. But we’d have to rewind to answer that one.
The first person has had a good day. No one is sick. Everyone is employed. Life is good. For the other person, much has been going on. A family member has just learned they are terminally ill. A friend has just lost her job. Life hasn’t been good for a long time. There’s been one thing after another. Dropping the glass and breaking it only brought it all to the forefront. One’s frame of reference makes all the difference.
Yes, some things might seem small by another’s definition but it might be coming after a long history of things going wrong and it’s this one “small” thing that puts one over the edge. I’ve had it happen myself. I’ve shared my concerns with someone only to have those concerns minimized by remarks such as, “Oh, everything will be all right”, meaning “not a big deal.”
Then there are those days when it hasn’t been a great day and it hasn’t been a bad day, it’s just been “one of those days”. You know the kind. The kind when everything seems to conspire against us from the time we left the house until we walk in the door at night. Cranky sales clerks. Rude waitresses. The grocery story forgets to put something in your bag and you have to go back to the store. The dog got out of his cage and chewed up some pillows. The kids are crying. Dinner is going to be late.
We’ve been managing fine with each individual crisis but then there’s that one small thing that undoes it all. Usually something insignificant . But if it were you, how would you feel if someone said to you, “Hey, don’t sweat the small stuff.” I have a hunch they might be picking themselves up off the floor.
There’s a lot of stuff that goes on every day in people’s life that are mind-numbing. There isn’t anything “small” to a woman who’s just learned she has breast cancer. To a mother whose just learned her child has Down syndrome. To the man who just lost his job. For however long it takes to adjust to the trauma, nothing is “small”.
For the most part, wouldn’t you agree that we usually don’t really know what another person is really going through?
As much as we might like we can’t really walk in anyone’s shoes but our own. Nor can anyone else walk in ours.
I mentioned to someone just today that everyone has a story. We had been talking about a troubled soul we both know who was making some very poor choices. My friend said, “I don’t”. We had been discussing one’s history, one’s upbringing. I thought to myself how fortunate it was for her that she could say that but the next thought was, “Yes, you do.” There isn’t a person in this world who hasn’t suffered hurt or disappointment in their lives. None of us had perfect parents even though we think we just might be the first.
I wish I could say I was above this myself but the truth is I find myself judging other people issues and qualifying them as big or small.. There are certainly people whose lives are far more stressful than others. There are also people whose lives are less stressful. But the interesting paradox about all this is that those who are living the more difficult lives may very well not categorize their lot in life as any big deal while those at the end of the other spectrum might very well do so. Some people just roll with the punches better. I’m not a particularly good roller myself. I don’t want anyone minimizing my struggles.
It’s particularly true of people who fight the battle against depression. Very often their depression is minimized. While I certainly believe that most people who battle depression do have some culpability, it’s still wrong to act as though it’s no big deal. That it’s an insignificant illness. “If they really wanted to feel better, they could”, we often hear. Again, there is some truth to the fact that sometimes depressed people who seem to wallow in it. But no matter how much of that is true in any one particular case, it’s definitely not a small thing. All it would take for people to be more tolerant of those who suffer from any form of mental illness would be to suffer a good long case of depression themselves.
It isn’t likely that most people verbalize this “it’s all small stuff” attitude but it’s shown a hundred other ways. It’s how they look when they’re supposed to be listening. It’s the fact that they don’t ask you down the road, “How’s it going with that?” They don’t ask because to them it was a small thing.
Let’s be careful with our words. I’ve written a number of posts about the importance of choosing our words carefully. I will continue to do so.