Archives for the month of: May, 2014



This week I’ve been challenging myself to do a (very) little more.

This is a bit vague, I know, and it is in my head too. It started on Monday, when I was out walking with my young son. We were going looking for Borrowers (they originate in our small town, oddly enough – Mary Norton grew up and set the first book there), and came upon quite a lot of rubbish. It was a warm, sunny day and we wandered past, both commenting on it. A second later the thought occurred to me – how many people had walked past that rubbish, expecting someone else to pick it up and put it in the bin? Sure, there are council litter-pickers who come past once or twice a week, but why not exert the small effort of lifting some (relatively clean) rubbish into a nearby bin, and make the town a little nicer right now?

I think there’s often a lot of emphasis in people’s minds on the larger acts. When someone talks of a “hero cleaning up the streets” we’re more likely to think of Batman swooping through the streets of Gotham knocking ten bells out of crooks than someone picking up some rubbish. But it occurs to me these small acts soon add up to a larger change.

What’s more, they set an example. My son is two, and I don’t want him to go scooping up rubbish whenever he finds it. At the same time, I don’t want him to develop this “someone else will do it” mentality we seem to suffer from as a species. Perhaps because we’re so numerous, or our infrastructure is so evolved, so sophisticated, it is very easy for us to become divorced from the everyday realities that just because we didn’t make the mess, doesn’t mean we can’t help clear it up.

I’m not claiming to be a hero for picking up rubbish, by the way, but it’s a small act which benefits everyone in my town a tiny bit, and perhaps one or two of the people nearby would take my example and perform another small act in some other way. Who knows. At the very least, the street looked a little nicer, and I wouldn’t have felt guilty for realising I was ignoring the problem just like everyone else.

I’ve taken the same approach at work this week, fixing or reporting things others have ignored for a while. There was a bottle of milk spilled in the work fridge, so I mopped it up. It seems to me that this is the sort of thing a Jedi should do; we should work to maximise the harmony others experience in the world. I may have stopped ten people from being annoyed at having to retrieve their lunches from a puddle of off milk, or maybe the next person after me would have cleaned it up. But my conscience was clear and it felt good to do this small courtesy for the rest of my team.

The thing I’m reminded of by these tiny, seemingly insignificant acts is the principle of minimal gains. I heard about this idea from the British Olympic track cycling team. They’re one of the most successful teams at their sport in the world, and that’s in part due to the philosophy of minimal gains. The theory goes, if you can shave 1/100th of a second off your time, say by making your outfit out of a slightly more aerodynamic material, that’s not a significant saving. But if you repeat that 100 times, you shave a second off your time, which can be the difference between second place and a world record. The British track cycling team’s impressive medal haul speaks for the efficacy of this idea.

Small acts are a type of minimal gain. Letting someone ahead of you in traffic, picking up rubbish, helping someone retrieve a stuck shopping trolley – none of these in isolation is something to write a journal post about. But repeated enough times, and crucially set as an example of friendly, cooperative and harmonious behaviour to enough people, these small acts can radiate outwards to make a big difference.

As a Jedi, an instrument of peace and harmony, doing at least a (very) little to make people’s lives a (very) little nicer, smoother and easier seems appropriate.

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