What Smart People Forget About The Beauty of Small

Small is a beautiful, magnetic word.

And here are a couple of my personal triumphs with small.

1. Professional Favorite: Sky, Football & Feet

When I was a little kid, I loved looking up. I still do. The outstretched arms, head tilted up, soaking in the open sky — the vastness of the horizon kinda hugs you. At the polar opposite are feet. They were never in my radar. That all changed when one scene [from a 2006 movie about an underdog success story] jammed into my head and stayed.

In 1976 , Vince Papale made the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie. Vince was 30 year old then — too old by American football standards.

His friend, Dennis Frank was tired of Vince getting hammered every night at the line of tussle. Mirroring the stance of an opposing linesman, he thunders to Vince “what color are my knuckles?” Vince notices that Dennis’s knuckles whiten up before he charges. Ever so lightly leaning forward and putting the body weight on the knuckles, blocks the blood flow.

What Vince found in knuckles as a leading indicator, I found in the feet.

When people have a conversation standing, I found something interesting. Invariably, after the conversation, they moved in the direction their feet were already pointing.

Those feet gave me a clue about overstaying a welcome. Or as George Costanza, from the TV sitcom Seinfeld would say it — leave on a high note. Always exaggerated for comical effect and always on point about minutiae of daily life — the beauty of one of my favorite shows.

Comedy has a way to exposing us to some simple, small details that are profound. So can deep sorrow.

2. Poignant Favorite: Better than, How are you?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, lost her husband in an accident. When her emotions were raw and vulnerable, well meaning folks had well intended words –“how are you?”

Her inner turmoil, in her words, “I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?”

In the same breath, she wished a word was added at the end –today. It did a world of difference — a focus on the moment vs. generalities.

In her words, “When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”

In sharing her words out of her deepest pain, she opened my eyes. Smallest details make the biggest statement — today has never been the same since I read her post.

Every day, today is a word I cherish to use.

Talking about cherish and today in one sentence, I cherish small bites of opportunities with my children. Here is a deeply personal one.

3. Personal Favorite: As a parent, Better than how was your day?

We may not be able to jet in and jet out like a helicopter parent in our children’s moment of need. We may not be able to match the sheer force of will of a tiger mom. But, we can be present fully when we share moments with our children. For some, that happens when we walk our child home after school. For some, it happens during the drive back from school. For many others, it happens when we return home.

In almost all those stolen one on one moments, “how was your day?” is a common signature. What I ask my 8-year-old daughter is slightly different “When did you feel great today?” Her happy thoughts give me nuggets of bonding like the audience in the Cuba Gooding Junior moment. And soon enough, I follow with the opposite, “When did you feel not so great today?” When she opens up, my first instinct is to wrap her and shoo away all her down moments. And once I transcend that, it gives me joy to be her coach.

In all this, I am consumed by her thoughts. And she often shakes me out of my reverie with her wisp of a smile and wetness of her heart. She asks me in the trademark, god given voice for children — “how was your day daddy?”

When I hear that — I chuckle, every time.

It is one thing to experience a gesture like that from adults and magical when you hear it from your child. Elated and ecstatic just scratch the surface on how I feel on the largeness of her thoughtfulness.

In the smallest words and acts are life’s hidden treasures in plain sight. In those moments — small, wholesome, genuine moments — life is won and our narratives are set.

Thanks for reading, more than anything, a genuine thanks for taking the time to know about my small world. All I am left with for you, from one person to another — how do you feel today? I am absorbed in the moments of your response.

— — -

Karthik Rajan

I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships.

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