Invitation was vital to how this group worked. When a new person was invited to the group, the rest of us formed a tight standing circle with our arms linked, facing inward, and the new person had to “break into” the circle. Sometimes they fought their way in, sometimes they tickled their way in, sometimes they tricked their way in, and sometimes they asked their way in. Everyone eventually got in, though. The important part was what happened next: the new person was welcomed, and two people would sit with them and make sure they were included and made to feel part of the circle. This was a sensitivity game, and the group was modeled as an encounter group, but we took our role as caretakers of the whole community very seriously. It was a sweet time. We formed deep and lasting friendships, and this gave me a foundation for my faith and a deep sense of responsibility to and for others.
In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group. It was meant reverently, because her dad used to use this phrase to help dispel some of the angst that was going on around him in his final years. He was dying, but he didn’t want a fuss made over him. With due respect to him, and to Richard Carlson who wrote the “Small Stuff” books, however, HELL NO, this concept was not something we learned in our open circle group!
While I appreciate the ability to reflect on whether something that is bothering me is an annoyance versus an emergency, the suggestion that “it’s ALL small stuff” is patronizing, to say the least.
The platitudes, “it’s all small stuff”, and its first cousin: “everyone is doing the best that they can” are obnoxious sugar pills. They divide people from the unpleasant realities of pain. The first one minimizes people’s perception of pain, and the second one minimizes the pain that others inflict, often quite deliberately. If we were all doing the best that we can, we would experience heaven on earth, instead of violence driven by power and greed. When someone says “it’s all small stuff”, it is used as a silencer. It is intended to shut people up, because we don’t want to deal with their genuine pain or their legitimate grievances. The phrase “it’s all small stuff” literally minimizes people’s struggles and their pain. It doesn’t reduce it, it mocks it. Minimizing is a control strategy used by abusers to make people and their pain appear insignificant, and therefore dismissible. That is not love. That is contempt.
Love invites us to be real. It calls us by name. We embody and express love in action when we take each other seriously. We express love in action when we invite and welcome the stranger, along with our friends, when we sit quietly with them, listening, fully present with integrity. The grace of invitation is that it is rooted in humility and joy.
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