Should “the small stuff” like petty lies and exaggerations that you notice in conversation, social interaction have an impact in the development of social relationships? Or should that “small stuff” be ignored? Should you embrace a philosophy of “don’t sweat the small stuff” or, contrarily, “pay attention to the detail”? Is there a third, more elusive but more ideal option?

Amid the myriad of social interactions that occur unto and around us every day, there exists two heartily contrasting ideologies that pertain to one aspect of the development of social relationships: the intense scrutiny or the willful ignorance of portions of conversation and routine social interaction that are minute and trivial in nature; these minor details of conversation are what we often and colloquially refer to as “the small stuff.”

“The small stuff” can range from petty lies or exaggerations of tales, to subtle efforts put forth on behalf of another or simple compliments given in passing. Although fleeting and seemingly unimportant to the greater development of friendships and relationships, these aspects of social interaction should be neither ignored nor over-analyzed.

When a balance is struck between the polarities of willful ignorance (choosing to disregard patterns and trends of behavior that may be indicative of one’s true motives or character flaws) and intense scrutiny (over-analyzing every minute detail of interaction and conversation), being able to recognize and make sense of “the small stuff” can prove to be a great benefit to the development of social relationships. Trends of minor behaviors are oft revealing of Individual character — whether for better or for worse. Further, if one becomes self-conscious of his or her own patterns of minor behavior in social interactions and conversation, one can aptly utilize “the small stuff” as a positive tool to influence Goodness in those around us.

Pay Attention to Detail…?

To “pay attention to detail” is quite an inseparable component from mastering any hobby, skill-set or profession, as well as an integral part of any duty or job that one wishes to fulfill with expert precision. With the array of positive benefits that results from giving close attention to detail, it’s no surprise that some men and women apply the same concept to social interactions and relationships in hopes that they may better understand others around them, as well as best convey their intentions and who they are as human beings. But it is often taken to the extreme, and quickly becomes an improper method of emotional self-defense (self defense mechanism) that simply results in undeniable confusion and over-complication.

There are many examples of subjects broached and minute details of conversation that are often innocently mentioned in-passing that those who over-scrutinize “the small stuff” will make primary motivations for future interactions with the other person. Some examples could include:

  • Deducing personality from style of dress
  • Mentioning or discussing an “ex-“
  • Bringing up a subject like money, religion, or politics

The major problem of “paying attention to detail” with focus on “the small stuff” is that it often results in one developing an over-dependency upon attempting to diagnose another’s personality or understand another’s motives for the sake of defending one’s self from being emotionally hurt.

As with social interactions and relationships, we must acknowledge that we will always lack total, complete knowledge about human beings and life, in general. Attempting to predetermine something as unpredictable as humans in social relationships — well ahead of their patterns of natural development — comes in ignorant defiance of the fact that we, as humans, know so little in life until enough time has passed to reflect upon it in hindsight. If you’re willing enough to embark upon the unpredictable journey of engaging with others in social and romantic relationships, you would be best served to first admit a total openness and not engaging upon the arbitrary task of extensively scrutinizing “the small stuff” in the name of emotional self-defense.

…or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a “no worry” approach that beckons us to not give too much concern or attention to trivial issues that are certain to arise in everyday life. Allowing “the small stuff” in life to consume in inordinate amount of attention and concern does a serious disservice to ourselves and those around us because it distracts our focus from who and what is most important in our lives. And really, we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. But that doesn’t mean we should completely ignore it.

I once became close to an individual whose behavior, I gradually noticed, included a seemingly innocent pattern of commonly concocting deceits — petty exaggerations and fabrications of details — in conversation. Upon this realization, I simply told myself, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” And truthfully, such exaggerations had a negligible impact upon the development of our friendship.

In hindsight, I came to realize that “the small stuff” that I chose to entrust unto this person as truths were, ultimately, revealing of a selfish character and reckless motives. Something as seemingly trivial as petty deceits ultimately eradicated any basis of truth, trust, or confidence upon which our friendship had assumingly been built. “The small stuff” can indeed reveal much about an individual; such indicating factors can reveal a substantial amount about one’s nature and motives. Some men and women ultimately reveal ulterior, selfish or reckless motives through minor patterns of deceit — the very “small stuff” I had chosen to ignore as frivolous.

While “the small stuff” in this anecdote was ultimately negative (having revealed a pattern of deceit and disregard for truth and honesty), what was conversely revealed to me was this: as much as seemingly trivial aspects of social interaction possess the raw ability to erode goodness and spur pain, so too must minute interactions equally — if not more strongly — possess the raw power to encourage Good and evoke hope in another.

Utilize “the Small Stuff” for Good

The smallest efforts can go a long way in radically influencing goodness in others — even actions as seemingly minute and insignificant as smiling at a stranger. Months ago, I wrote:

Every day, quiet leaders seek to be conduits of happiness — dedicated channels through which happiness, giving, and goodness can pass on to family, friends, and strangers. They strive to be conduits for happiness because they believe it can create a powerful chain reaction and radically influence goodness in others.

As potent a tool for negativity and hurt, “the small stuff” can conversely spark a fire of Hope in those around us; especially those who least expect it, especially those who feel undeserving of it. For within the heart of every being, there lies a seed of Hope. The seed is no different for the disheartened and the dejected. For they, the seed is buried just more deeply beneath the surface; it requires more care and time to grow. And yet its growth must begin somewhere, somehow. A droplet of love, embodied in what appears only to be small and insignificant — what we could call “the small stuff” — may the seed find the strength to sprout and grow.

Though we may never fully reap the effect of the Goodness that is sow though “the small stuff,” in striving to spread Goodness we will might but sway a lost soul to now join similar ranks. They, now as living proof, may believe in it just the same. And it all began with something small.

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