One of the most insidious symptoms of a petty mind is bullying. In childhood, we have the classic case of bigger kids or more popular children bullying their peers because of some type of difference. In adulthood, the petty, bullying continues when one person or group of people try to elevate themselves by putting another person or group of people down. Bullying is a complicated problem in the United States and even more so in several other nations.
As a member of a bullied minority, I’ve had most of my life to reflect upon the pettiness that underlies much of society. It is this analysis that has kept me from reflexively striking back and becoming petty myself. I must admit that the temptation to do so is becoming ever stronger in these days of wide-spread divisiveness.
We see a strong upsurge in this behavior at home and around the world these days. It usually happens when an influential, wealthy individual or group picks on non-influential, or poor people. Without having to name names, we have prime examples of illiberal, small-minded, dangerous speech and behavior happening each day in the United States.
One sees daily examples of pettiness when we encounter Internet trolls, schoolyard bullies, overbearing family members, religious leaders, and politicians. Many of these people have garnered great wealth and power by using their own parochial pettiness to appeal to the provincial pettiness of society.
The bully accomplishes her or his aims by harping on petty, perceived imperfections present in others. Popular examples are “fat-shaming” and “slut-shaming”. In turn, there is the desire for revenge by throwing the same accusations back at the bullies. As a result, the disputes devolve into a muddy, disempowering, picayune. The petty disputes serve to distract our attention from larger, more important issues.
Narrow minds are found in all sectors of society. Provincial attitudes can be present in the mind of the inventor or a software designer in areas of life that have nothing to do with the invention or use of the software. They can have similar attitudes to those that are found in members of “fringe” groups.
One doesn’t have to be a “yokel” to harbor deep, harmful prejudices. We are painfully aware, these days, of people who are deceitful, angry, and focused only on satisfying their own desires. This pettiness of mind and spirit is causing our civilization to lose the ability to work well together.
Pettiness is found in the mind that is overly confident, rigidly decided, ultra-traditional, incurious, and calcified in thinking. Pettiness kills off true, honest passion.
Ironically, a small-minded person might notice his own pettiness and decide he must become passionate about something worthwhile. Unfortunately that passion usually is contrived and rather petty. The best way for a petty mind to become greater is to let go of mental restrictions and to let go of petty concerns. This is easier said than done because there are no trite self-help columns nor books about the subject.
What is helpful, is to observe people who have genuinely remained young. This goes back to what I wrote about passion the day before yesterday in this blog. We find people who are breaking through rigidity, endlessly seeking and discovering new ways of seeing themselves and others. Pettiness fades away on its own when we crawl out of our restricted self-interested mindset. Pettiness evaporates when we realize the ages old advice to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.
It is passionate curiosity that energizes the mind beyond mere pettiness.
The Blue Jay of Happiness shares a pithy thought from philosopher Martin Heidegger. “If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life; and only then will I be free to become myself.”