Little things are big
We have a rich and diverse educational offering at Kinross Wolaroi, an educational offering that many in society would dearly love to have the opportunity to experience. Quality teaching, a beautiful setting, a broad and engaging curriculum and a plethora of co-curricular pursuits make the advantages of such an all-encompassing education self-evident.
It is crucial that as beneficiaries of such an educational offering we are conscious of our obligations to use our gifts and opportunities for the benefit of others and make our communities better places. We must remain grounded, aware of our good fortune, be courteous, and sensitive to the needs, and feelings of others. That means avoiding a sense of entitlement. Entitlement is one of the worst potential outcomes of privilege – and it is a deeply unattractive characteristic. Entitled actions are diametrically opposed to the Spirit of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, which as a Uniting Church school should be so dear to us, the spirit which urges us all to be good citizens and to;
“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as you ever can.”
A few years ago I came across the phrase, “little things are big”. It is the title of a short story written by the Puerto Rican writer Jesus Colon, about a dilemma he faced on a subway ride in New York City in the 1950’s. This was a time in the United States of great racial tension and segregation where Colon and millions of black Americans were discriminated against due to the colour of their skin.
‘Little things are big’, and he allowed something about his own self-image and others’ possible perceptions of him to squander an opportunity to behave courteously, something about which he felt great shame, resulting in a decision he regretted deeply. It was a little thing, but it was big to him.
Colon struggled with his decision not to help a young white lady who was carrying a baby and clutching a suitcase late at night at a near deserted railway station. Behind her were two young children possibly three and five years old. She obviously had her hands full and could have benefited from some help as she negotiated the many stairs at the station.
“But how could I, a Negro and a Puerto Rican, approach this white lady, who very likely might have preconceived prejudices about Negroes and everybody with foreign accents, in a deserted subway station very late at night?
What would she say? What would be the first reaction of this white American woman perhaps coming from a small town with a valise, two children and a baby on her right arm? Would she say: yes, of course, you may help me. Or would she think that I was just trying to get too familiar? Or would she think worse than that perhaps? What would I do if she let out a scream as I went forward to offer my help?
Was I misjudging her? So many slanders are written every day in the daily press against the Negroes and Puerto Ricans. I hesitated for a long, long minute. The ancestral manners that the most illiterate Puerto Rican passes on from father to son were struggling inside me. Here was I, way past midnight, face to face with a situation that could very well explode into an outburst of prejudices and chauvinistic conditioning of the “divide and rule” policy of present-day society.”
Colon passed her by and ignored her “This is what racism and prejudice and chauvinism and official artificial divisions can do to people and to a nation!” (Colon)
Little things are big. Society is presently reeling from a wave of disclosures of wide-scale, unchallenged, even institutionalised predatory behaviour, initially in Hollywood and now within business, the media and Parliament. This conduct is as far away from ‘little things’ as you can get, so what might this have to do with the experience of Colon at the subway?
Colon was telling us that by allowing ourselves small omissions or lapses, if unchallenged, can lead to a mindset or culture in which more significant and pernicious behaviour is normalised, overlooked or in some way condoned. This is why little things are big.
For this reason I feel strongly about courtesy and the importance of considering the impact of your actions on others. Every day of our lives offer us an almost limitless range of small opportunities to signal important things about ourselves: whether we are selfish or entitled or thoughtful and considerate.
Life is inherently social, and therefore offers us almost endless opportunities to display courtesy and respect. Don’t lose them. They will not always prove immediately life-changing but nevertheless, little things are big.
Jesus Colon (1901-1974) was a Puerto Rican writer of African descent who moved to Brooklyn, New York at the age of 16. Colon wrote about his experiences as an immigrant and discussed how racism influences American Culture.