Thursday, October 25, 2012

There is so much pettiness in this world

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
As I looked at the political picture in the U.S. today, I thought of a quotation by Margaret J. Wheatley that so accurately captured the situation: “In our daily life,” she wrote, “we encounter people who are angry, deceitful, intent only on satisfying their own needs. There is so much anger, distrust, greed, and pettiness that we are losing our capacity to work well together.”  It's embarrassing to admit that we harbor pettiness in our lives, but the fact is that most of us do.
Throughout my college-teaching career, I tried to combat pettiness.  For example, it is common knowledge (and frequently illustrated) that we tell books by their covers.  And, too, we often judge a speaker more by his or her delivery than by the substance of the speech.  As much as I would list and thoroughly discuss each of the essential elements — outside of the area of delivery — and emphasize the importance of making decisions of worth based on content, one could never dismiss (and should not!) the role that delivery plays in a speech performance.  But when one weighs one against the other (content versus delivery), the problem is simply that delivery often weighs in at 90-100% of the judgment.
I guess it can’t be helped.  Our whole society seems consumed by pettiness.  When celebrity glamor rules the media and people spend their time watching reality shows and the silly antics of people testing their “skills” for a camera, it appears inevitable that pettiness would dominate.  Look at the preoccupations of many of the youth today.  Spending time playing games or texting others reveals a great deal of pettiness and demonstrates how it dominates our lives.  And this youthful model is what sets the stage for a lifetime of pettiness.
Pettiness occurs at all levels of our society.  Look at this quotation from the Chronicle of Higher Education , (August 26, 2009) from an article, “On Hiring: Searching for Pettiness,” by Gene C. Fant Jr.: “Obviously, there are professional parameters for business communications, especially in searches, but my point is really that there is a certain level of pettiness that can creep into the selection process, especially when applicants are very numerous. At previous institutions and in my professional network, I’ve heard no’s generated by paper-weight choices (‘lightweight paper makes for lightweight applicants’), by conference-presentation titles (“if it has a colon in it, it must be full of feces”), and even by names (‘I couldn’t work with someone with a name that close to a person from my past whom I hate’).”
I ask you now, aren’t these the most petty reasons for rejecting a candidate?
When I listen to my 98-year-old father-in-law and hear some of the reasons why he holds a grudge against a popular television newsreader, doesn’t like a particular politician, or fails to appreciate an actor or actress because of a “fatal [petty] flaw.”  I realize how pettiness can reside in people forever.  The French writer Andre Maurois said, “Often we allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. We lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over grievances that, in a year's time, will be forgotten by us and by everybody. No, let us devote our life to worthwhile actions and feelings, to great thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings.”
You might think this essay on pettiness would offer readers ways to overcome it, suggestions for dealing with it, or steps to take to reduce it.  No, I don’t think it can be helped.  We are a petty society led by petty politicians, petty news media, and an entire entertainment industry that caters to, dotes on, and proclaims pettiness through its reports, programs, and productions.  How in the world could all of that be reduced or made manageable?
I think the most important consideration of all is simply to understand it.  Whether we like it or not, other people will be petty.  So often, understanding it helps put it into perspective: “Oh, that’s Edgar being petty again.”  You hear it; you understand it; you accept it; and you dismiss it.
Nobody wants to be petty, but everyone is.
There are, it’s true, several ways each of us has to try to control (rein in!) our own pettiness.  For example, I thought this quotation from the website, is especially poignant and carries a great deal of wisdom: “When small-mindedness creeps into our lives, it's usually a gradual process. Overcoming it is a gradual process, too. I've found that building and maintaining my self-esteem is a lifelong job. When I battle pettiness in myself, I try to remember the Golden Rule: I don't like it when people are nasty to me, so I shouldn't be nasty to others.
“It's a challenge to be pleasant and cheerful when you don't feel well or when you've just suffered some tragedy or defeat in your life. But it's always wise to think very carefully before you lash out.”
I have discovered an amazing elixir — a potion intended to cure one's pettiness — and that is work.  That is, I have found that when I pour myself into my work with focus, deep penetration, and perseverance, I do not have the time, interest, or need to be petty.  And, although this is certainly not universally true, pettiness is for lightweights — the unintellectual, undemanding, insubstantial, shallow people.  You see, I use such an internal pronouncement — knowing that it is not universally true! — to convince myself I do not qualify to be among those who want to be petty.  It helps keep me above the fray, and when I dip down, as a bird diving to retrieve an insect, I remind myself of this pronouncement, and it helps me regain altitude.
Along with this pronouncement, I have discovered, too, compassion.  Petty people are unlikely to change — ever!  And although it is tough at times, I have the need to summon the courage to respond to pettiness and petty people with its antidote — compassion.  I try to find ways to wish them good will, or, as is more often the case, to avoid them altogether.
“Those who occupy their minds with small matters,” said Francois de La Rochefoucauld, “generally become incapable of greatness.”  Although I am not seeking greatness, nor will I ever, such a quote offers some sanity in this world of pettiness.  I don’t get involved with it, I don’t try to change others, and I don’t lower myself to their level.  If you see pettiness of any kind, do as I do, smile, understand it, appreciate it for the pettiness that it is, and go on with your life.  It was Winston Churchill who said, “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense”
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At the website,, the essay by Michael Arthur Moore, “Mean Spirited and Petty People - How to Deal With Them Effectively,” at least five specific suggestions.  This essay is definitely worth reading.  His final paragraph reads: “Happiness is up to each and every one of us. We control our surroundings for the most part. Taking personal responsibility for your actions is the road to happiness.”

The essay, “How to deal with difficult people,” at offers seven terrific suggestions.  After making her suggestions, Brenda concludes her essay saying: “Without a doubt, there will be difficult people who appear upon your path. It is your choice how you wish to deal with them. Hopefully, I have provided a guide to help you make choices that work for you.”
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Copyright October, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


  1. I believe there was one run-on sentence in an essay you wrote several months ago. I've been unable to read your essays objectively since then. I hope you understand. :) I love Tom Petty by the way and he is very petty.


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