Nuisances vs. Problems

We had a barbecue on the Fourth of July. I was grilling burgers like a madman, and (long story short) a bunch of grease flew off the grill at me. I dodged most of it, but my left forefinger got a healthy splash of the stuff. Speaking from experience now, grease burns are not a pleasant experience. It’s all blistered now, and it promises to be painful for quite some time to come.

But it’s still just a small spot on one of my fingers. About half the size of a dime. In the grand scheme of How Is My Body Feeling Right Now, it shouldn’t have much of an influence. And yet it’s the part I end up focusing the most on, just because it hurts, and it’s always right there, waiting for me to examine as I contemplate why in the world I didn’t take more precautions when working with burning hot grease.

Because I have a tendency to overthink things, I’ve also thought how this illustrates some other lines of thinking I’ve had over the years. How easy it is, for example, to become so focused on a relatively small problem that you lose sight of the greater good you could be focused on instead.

When we bought our home, we saw all the good things about it first. The things that attracted us to it in the first place. The beautiful wooden spiral staircase. The quaint kitchen. The cool chandeliers. The details a house from 1841 has that make it unique. Once you live in a place for a while, however, you notice the other things. The way the floor doesn’t quite line up right. How that one window doesn’t open the right way. And it’s easy to start to see those flaws each time you look at the space instead of the things you loved to begin with.

The same is true about people, though in my experience, you sometimes notice the flaws before you notice the strengths in a person, depending on the circumstances in which you met. We can sometimes laser in just on the things that irritate us the most, or the one or two bad experiences we had with the person, ignoring all the times that things were fine, and the good things the person represents.

Take the concept and apply it to anything you like. Religion. Politics. Your job. Hobbies. Your marriage. As I think about it, it seems to transfer pretty much anywhere. Yes, there are cases where there are serious problems with a thing, a person, or a relationship. Where the issues run much deeper than a bad burn on your proverbial finger. But I tend to think those are the exceptions, rather than the rule, and that we’d all be much better off if we could focus on the positive majority instead of the negative minority.

Some of the trouble, I think, stems from social media and the way it inevitably shoves people’s personal opinions and beliefs into your face all the time, to the point where you begin to pigeonhole people by those beliefs. Trump Supporter. Sexist. Racist. Democrat. Again, I’m not dismissing the potential harm a group of like-minded people can have on society as a whole, but I also believe that to label someone and dismiss them because of that label is a mistake, and an approach that will ultimately lead to a toxic environment in general, where you’re just as much a part of the problem as the people you’ve dismissed.

There are plenty of problems to go around right now. We need to make sure the ones we’re addressing are real problems, and not surface level nuisances that are nothing more than distractions. Especially on a local, individual level.


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