Perhaps surprisingly, for most humans, small things often have a much bigger impact than big things.
As I write this, large parts of the world are under some sort of Coronavirus-inspired lock-down which, for the most part, people understand and go along with best they can.
But small things set people off in a way that being confined to your home, or your immediate neighbourhood, seems not to.
You might imagine it was the other way around, but I’ve heard more upset in the last week about people not being able to get their usual brand of toothpaste or breakfast cereal than I have about the principle of people living in major Western democracies having greater restrictions placed on their rights of free movement and free association than at any point in history, apart from when there’s been a war on.
Not that I’m arguing against it. Temporarily restricting people’s ability to mingle with others seems to be based on sensible scientific advice, so it’s worth following.
But I’ve long been fascinated about how very small points of leverage can have a highly disproportionate impact on outcomes…in both positive and negative ways.
Negative leverage includes things like mob rule, where some real…or, more usually, imagined…transgression leads to a witch hunt, lynchings or entire ethnic groups being expelled from a country.
On the more positive side of the equation, on 1st December 1955 an act as seemingly insignificant and mundane as one dignified lady sitting on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama was the spark that ignited the civil rights movement across the US and beyond.
Tiny actions lead to world-changing consequences.
Big things don’t change the world nearly as much as small things.
And it’s happened to you personally. I guarantee it.
Once upon a time you met someone, or noticed someone even if you never spoke with them. They did something almost insignificant in itself…perhaps they smiled across a room in your direction, held a door open for you or offered you a share of their umbrella while waiting at a bus stop in the rain…and something melted inside you.
Maybe you discovered the love of your life that way. Maybe you never saw them again.
But either way, one tiny, almost insignificant action unleashed a torrent of chemicals inside your body…in an instant…that created strong feelings of love, gratitude or appreciation in your heart for that person.
And that’s pretty much what “All The Small Things” by blink-182 is about.
It’s a story of how small, seemingly insignificant gestures can turn someone’s world around.
You see, while life as a superstar rock band has many compensations, life as a struggling wanna-be superstar rock band isn’t nearly so much fun.
Perhaps you’re juggling performing in bars at night with a day job, leaving you permanently short of sleep and in danger of losing both gigs as a consequence.
But even if you’re not, you’re certain to be on the road all the time performing to largely indifferent…if not openly hostile…audiences at first.
Of all the people who start rock bands, only a tiny percentage ever get beyond that phase.
Some just aren’t good enough, unfortunately. Others don’t get the breaks for some reason their small, dedicated group of fans can never fathom. Still others are screwed over by people they put their faith in to guide their career to the top.
The reasons aspiring rock stars don’t make it are many-fold, but all of them can identify with a loved one having to pick them back up again after yet another unsuccessful gig. And it goes pretty much like “All The Small Things”…
All the small things
True care truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride, best trip
Always I know
You’ll be at my show
This is why I don’t begrudge rock stars a penny of whatever they make.
It takes an incredible amount of fortitude and determination to live through several years of being spectacularly unsuccessful before you make it…if you ever do.
That said, the whole experience is so much easier to bear with the addition of just one little thing…someone who’ll come to your shows every night, even when you’re terrible, and commiserate with you afterwards about the lack of appreciation from your audience.
Turns out that one small thing is an invisible superpower that keeps you going through all the days and nights when you wonder if you should just give up your ambitions of being a rock star and get a proper job.
Small things have a much greater impact than big things. And for an aspiring rock star, the tiny bit of leverage they need is someone who cares enough to put an arm around them after their 258th unsuccessful performance in the almost-empty back room of a pub somewhere and tell them they’ll make it one day.
In fact, whether or not you’re an aspiring rock star, often the tiny actions of others turn out to be the rocket fuel for any ambition you care to have…even if that ambition is just to live a happy life with someone you love.
It’s the small things that make the biggest differences.
In “All The Small Things”, blink-182 sing about a thoughtful gesture reportedly based on the real life experience of guitarist and lead vocalist Tom DeLonge.
After yet another night performing to an indifferent crowd somewhere, he came home to find an unexpected gift from his then-girlfriend…
Late night, come home
Work sucks, I know
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares
“Surprises let me know she cares”…another way of saying that it’s the little gestures that make all the difference.
Like a smile from afar, a door held open, the share of an umbrella in the rain.
You didn’t expect any of those things when you woke up that morning, but each of those small gestures has the power to lift your mood and transform your day.
That’s the leverage of small things…they have within them the power to transform someone else’s day…perhaps their life…perhaps even your life, if you’re especially fortunate…
Not being able to move around at the moment is driving some people crazy, although most people understand why it’s better for them and everyone they know to follow the guidelines about minimising contact with others. That’s a big thing we’re all living with relatively well.
But there’s still plenty of room for small things without breaching any government guidelines. And they still have the power to transform someone else’s day…perhaps even save their life.
A thoughtful email or text message to let someone know you’re thinking of them…they don’t even need to be members of your own family. Even friends, acquaintances or neighbours who might be on their own appreciate someone they know thinking of them and dropping them a line to say “hope you’re OK”.
An offer to pick up some shopping for someone who can’t get out themselves or who isn’t in the best of health and needs insulating from any germs as much as possible.
A smile, a wave or a polite greeting to someone you pass at a safe distance in the street or exercising in the park. You might be the only person who’s even acknowledged their presence for days on end, for all you know. That tiny bit of human contact can help stop people spiralling into isolation-induced despair.
And, of course, staying home yourself unless it’s absolutely necessary.
It’s an incredibly small thing, but it’s the one thing every one of us can do to stamp out this terrible disease, protect thousands of lives and prevent suffering around the world.
Staying at home seems like a really small thing. In reality it’s a big thing. Right not, there’s possibly nothing bigger…
The video for “All The Small Things” is an inspired mickey-take of several other popular music videos from the late 1990s. It makes me chortle every time I watch it.
The Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are among the acts whose videos are mercilessly parodied by blink-182 in their “All The Small Things” video.
If you remember back to the late 1990s, you’ll have lots of fun spotting the nods to some other very famous music videos of the time. Keep an eye on what’s going on in the background too, as that’s where some of the jokes are hidden.
But even if you don’t go as far back as the late 1990s, you can still enjoy the bouncy, raucous energy of “All The Small Things”.
Just remember, it really is true — it’s the smallest of things that often make the biggest difference in the world. We all have within us the capacity to transform someone’s life. All it takes is one small gesture, one thoughtful action, one brief smile…
Here’s blink-182 with their biggest hit…the irreverent, fun-packed and surprisingly profound “All The Small Things”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/2m1hi0nfMR9vdGC8UcrnwU