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The Triviality Of Trivialities
Source: As A Matter Of Course
LIFE is clearer, happier, and easier for us as things assume their
true proportions. I might better say, as they come nearer in
appearance to their true proportions; for it seems doubtful whether
any one ever reaches the place in this world where the sense of
proportion is absolutely normal. Some come much nearer than others;
and part of the interest of living is the growing realization of
better proportion, and the relief from the abnormal state in which
circumstances seem quite out of proportion in their relation to one
Imagine a landscape-painter who made his cows as large as the
houses, his blades of grass waving above the tops of the trees, and
all things similarly disproportionate. Or, worse, imagine a disease
of the retina which caused a like curious change in the landscape
itself wherein a mountain appeared to be a mole-hill, and a
mole-hill a mountain.
It seems absurd to think of. And, yet, is not the want of a true
sense of proportion in the circumstances and relations of life quite
as extreme with many of us? It is well that our physical sense
remains intact. If we lost that too, there would seem to be but
little hope indeed. Now, almost the only thing needed for a rapid
approach to a more normal mental sense of proportion is a keener
recognition of the want. But this want must be found first in
ourselves, not in others. There is the inclination to regard our own
life as bigger and more important than the life of any one about us;
or the reverse attitude of bewailing its lack of importance, which
is quite the same. In either case our own life is dwelt upon first.
Then there is the immediate family, after that our own especial
friends,--all assuming a gigantic size which puts quite out of the
question an occasional bird's-eye view of the world in general. Even
objects which might be in the middle distance of a less extended
view are quite screened by the exaggerated size of those which seem
to concern us most immediately.
One's own life is important; one's own family and friends are
important, very, when taken in their true proportion. One should
surely be able to look upon one's own brothers and sisters as if
they were the brothers and sisters of another, and to regard the
brothers and sisters of another as one's own. Singularly, too, real
appreciation of and sympathy with one's own grows with this broader
sense of relationship. In no way is this sense shown more clearly
than by a mother who has the breadth and the strength to look upon
her own children as if they belonged to some one else, and upon the
children of others as if they belonged to her. But the triviality of
magnifying one's own out of all proportion has not yet been
recognized by many.
So every trivial happening in our own lives or the lives of those
connected with us is exaggerated, and we keep ourselves and others
in a chronic state of contraction accordingly.
Think of the many trifles which, by being magnified and kept in the
foreground, obstruct the way to all possible sight or appreciation
of things that really hold a more important place. The cook, the
waitress, various other annoyances of housekeeping; a gown that does
not suit, the annoyances of travel, whether we said the right thing
to so-and-so, whether so-and-so likes us or does not like
us,--indeed, there is an immense army of trivial imps, and the
breadth of capacity for entertaining these imps is so large in some
of us as to be truly encouraging; for if the domain were once
deserted by the imps, there remains the breadth, which must have the
same capacity for holding something better. Unfortunately, a long
occupancy by these miserable little offenders means eventually the
saddest sort of contraction. What a picture for a new Gulliver!--a
human being overwhelmed by the imps of triviality, and bound fast to
the ground by manifold windings of their cobweb-sized thread.
This exaggeration of trifles is one form of nervous disease. It
would be exceedingly interesting and profitable to study the various
phases of nervous disease as exaggerated expressions of perverted
character. They can be traced directly and easily in many cases. If
a woman fusses about trivialities, she fusses more when she is
tired. The more fatigue, the more fussing; and with a persistent
tendency to fatigue and fussing it does not take long to work up or
down to nervous prostration. From this form of nervous excitement
one never really recovers, except by a hearty acknowledgment of the
trivialities as trivialities, when, with growing health, there is a
growing sense of true proportion.
I have seen a woman spend more attention, time, and nerve-power on
emphasizing the fact that her hands were all stained from the dye on
her dress than a normal woman would take for a good hour's work. As
she grew better, this emphasizing of trivialities decreased, but, of
course, might have returned with any over-fatigue, unless it had
been recognized, taken at its worth, and simply dropped. Any one can
think of example after example in his own individual experience,
when he has suffered unnecessary tortures through the regarding of
trifling things, either by himself or by some one near him. With
many, the first instance will probably be to insist, with emphasis
and some feeling, that they are _not_ trivialities.
Trivialities have their importance _when given their true proportion_.
The size of a triviality is often exaggerated as much by neglect as
by an undue amount of attention. When we do what we can to amend an
annoyance, and then think no more about it until there appears
something further to do, the saving of nervous force is very great.
Yet, so successful have these imps of triviality come to be in their
rule of human nature that the trivialities of the past are
oftentimes dwelt upon with as much earnestness as if they belonged
to the present.
The past itself is a triviality, except in its results. Yet what an
immense screen it is sometimes to any clear understanding or
appreciation of the present! How many of us have listened over and
over to the same tale of past annoyances, until we wonder how it can
be possible that the constant repetition is not recognized by the
narrator! How many of us have been over and over in our minds past
troubles, little and big, so that we have no right whatever to feel
impatient when listening to such repetitions by others! Here again
we have, in nervous disease, the extreme of a common trait in
humanity. With increased nervous fatigue there is always an increase
of the tendency to repetition. Best drop it before it gets to the
fatigue stage, if possible.
Then again there are the common things of life, such as dressing and
undressing, and the numberless every-day duties. It is possible to
distort them to perfect monstrosities by the manner of dwelling upon
them. Taken as a matter of course, they are the very triviality of
trivialities, and assume their place without second thought.
When life seems to get into such a snarl that we despair of
disentangling it, a long journey and change of human surroundings
enable us to take a distant view, which not uncommonly shows the
tangle to be no tangle at all. Although we cannot always go upon a
material journey, we can change the mental perspective, and it is
this adjustment of the focus which brings our perspective into truer
proportions. Having once found what appears to be the true focus,
let us be true to it. The temptations to lose one's focus are many,
and sometimes severe. When temporarily thrown off our balance, the
best help is to return at once, without dwelling on the fact that we
have lost the focus longer than is necessary to find it again. After
that, our focus is better adjusted and the range steadily expanded.
It is impossible for us to widen the range by thinking about it;
holding the best focus we know in our daily experience does that
Thus the proportions arrange themselves; we cannot arrange the
proportions. Or, what is more nearly the truth, the proportions are
in reality true, to begin with. As with the imaginary eye-disease,
which transformed the relative sizes of the component parts of a
landscape, the fault is in the eye, not in the landscape; so, when
the circumstances of life are quite in the wrong proportion to one
another, in our own minds, the trouble is in the mental sight, not
in the circumstances.
There are many ways of getting a better focus, and ridding one's
self of trivial annoyances. One is, to be quiet; get at a good
mental distance. Be sure that you have a clear view, and then hold
it. Always keep your distance; never return to the old stand-point
if you can manage to keep away.
We may be thankful if trivialities annoy us as trivialities. It is
with those who have the constant habit of dwelling on them without
feeling the discomfort that a return to freedom seems impossible.
As one comes to realize, even in a slight degree, the triviality of
trivialities, and then forget them entirely in a better idea of true
proportion, the sense of freedom gained is well worth working for.
It certainly brings the possibility of a normal nervous system much
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