Small things are important. A kind word can go a long way to build up another person and expressing simple love in a family might be the most profound thing you can do today. Small things are important in close relationships, but they are also important in a community. When we give a note, help out, meet a need, or discover something worth celebrating then we are paying attention to the small details of our neighbourhood.
We know that small things are important because the opposite of small and good moments and actions, are toxic petty words and action. Petty behaviours are cynical, biting, judgemental, and defensive. They are small enough to often go under the radar, and they may be delivered on the sly, but they are detrimental. If small acts of love can change a life, small petty acts of hatred can also change a life. Small can have a massive impact.
In the same way we never call someone a jerk, we never call someone petty. A person is not their behaviour. People are valuable and beloved no matter what they have done and no matter how damaging their actions. We never call someone petty, but we can call a behaviour petty. We never call someone a jerk, but their behaviour may be terrible. When someone expresses petty behaviour and uses petty ways of communicating we might react with disgust at another person’s behaviour, but not really know why, at first. It is slick and infects slowly. Petty behaviour in a community needs to be named and removed.
Pettiness can emerge in a community as gossip, as avoidance, as spite, as backhanded compliments, when we hold others to unspoken expectations, when we refuse to express our thoughts in ways that honour those around us. If it is small and destructive to the fabric of a community, it might be petty behaviour.
There are several ways we can flush out pettiness in our lives and in our community. The first is to realize that we can sometimes think ourselves above others. When we think we know best then we might find ways to put others down. Judgementalism is toxic to our souls and to our neighbourhoods. Secondly, we need to nurture empathy and love for others. If we do not view others as real and worthy of love, then we will not treat them as such. Often pettiness arises when someone does not know their own worth and belovedness. Always give grace to a person with petty behaviours, it may be the only way towards transformation. Lastly, we need to capture a big picture vision of life if we’re to combat petty behaviour. When we focus on ourselves alone, we grow in pettiness. When we turn our imaginations towards God’s big picture for us, the grand unfolding wonder of our lives, or the beautiful gifts we’ve been given in nature, our country, our family, and friend, then pettiness has a much harder time taking root in us and around us.
May you discover the small and the beautiful all around, and may you flush out the small and destructive words and actions that swell up in you. Petty behaviour is toxic in more ways than we know and they can have a deep and lasting impact on us and our community. May you find peace and hope and dream of a world where pettiness has no home.