Friday, October 19, 2012

The Power of the Small and Simple

Alma 37:6

"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise."
There are a couple really interesting differences between a beginner and a master, in any given subject.  Beginners need to focus on basics, and fundamentals, but the master will appreciate the small, simple subtleties of his art.  He knows their power.  Whereas the beginner will often be a bit caught up in how "cool" or "popular" or "powerful" or "rich" a particular skill, art, ability, or possession will make him/her.  Beginners tend to try and force things, whereas the master will use power and wisdom. To the beginner, the beauty of it all looks somewhat like "magic" and is a bit of a mystery.

The master will have mastered the basics, and therefore, knows the advantage of small adjustments.  He knows when to use them for maximum effect.  He develops wisdom.  The beginner typically just wants to know the secrets, shortcuts, or techniques. Who, if told, either can't reproduce it, or will misuse them, and get himself and others in trouble.  A master is not just proficient at his art, it goes beyond that.  Many learners in any subject will stop at "proficiency" level.  In fact most will.  But there are a few who will press on, and learn the keys to whatever it is they are doing.

In a cultural sense, what develops from this are initiation rituals, or "puberty rites". Our culture has all but lost them, however remnants of them are scattered through every culture that has ever lived on earth.  In ancient cultures when a male reached a certain age, had been proven and tested, he was taught  the "keys" or "secrets of the universe" by a group of aged "Elders" in the community.  The person acquired a new title through the ritual and was reintroduced into the community.  Separate rituals existed for the females.  These are interesting to read if you want to look them up.  But that is a topic for another post.

The master and the beginner do have some things in common.  They both share a "beginners" mind.  They are childlike, humble, and desire to learn more.  The master has gone through all the stages of learning until the foundations have become part of his subconscious.  But he returns again to the basics, this time at a whole new level, and with a whole new mindset, as if seeing them for the first time.

Here's just a few examples of small and simple things that everyone can recognize.

Martial Arts:

The beginner martial artist will tend to rely on physical force to try and overpower their opponent.  The master uses the other persons energy and simply redirect it.  The beginner wonders how long he will have to lift weights in order to throw his opponent over his shoulder.  The master knows how the bodies joints work, and what can be used as leverage points. He positions himself in just the right place, and with perhaps one movement someone 3 times his size can go right over his shoulder to the floor.  We've probably all seen it happen.

A Ship

A small trim tab can turn an entire ship. Or you could have the workers put the oars out the side of the boat and try and turn it by rowing.  It will work, but the captain only needs to adjust the control surfaces.  But a wise captain knows when to use each.  A battling crew who are at each others throats may benefit from working together with the oars.  An exhausted crew may benefit from rest while the rudder helps steer for a while.  Again the subtleties.  The small and the simple can accomplish great things.  The master uses them with wisdom, like the captain who knows his crew.


This is a field which I love.  There is way more to say than I will write, but a few basics for thought is a good start.  In communication, there are times when "less is more".  Of course this isn't always the case.  But it's worth noticing.  One well timed and well worded sentience, with the correct voice tone, can speak more than something of much greater length.  It's small and simple, yet very powerful.  Indirect messages, or elements of body language are much the same.  They often go totally unnoticed, yet can have a greater effect than anyone would imagine.  Picture a Hollywood chick flick   A simple well placed moment of eye contact can trigger feelings in someone else no amount of words or convincing could.  These things are not hidden, we all know it when we see it.  But yet we often don't "see" it.  The body is an amazing tool for communication, but we don't pay much attention to it.  

In almost any area, the subtitles are often the most powerful.  But curiously they are guarded in a way. Only some will appreciate them.  For the rest, they go undiscovered.  For those who know them there is a sense of obligation not to share them with the unprepared who will misuse them, and thus cause harm.  So a sort of built in "safety mechanism" exists.  It's that the unprepared will not value, nor truly recognize the subtleties, so they usually forget them, and or pass them off as inconsequential.  "Slothful" is the term Alma uses.

Things like a ship trip tab, or various types of communication are just broad examples of small and simple things that most people will relate to at some level.  We've all seen a ship rudder, seen a martial arts guy get thrown, and watched as Hollywood portrays the boy girl drama with all the associated subtle forms of communication.  The discussion gets really interesting however when it turns to matters of Faith, the Gospel, and God.  The Lord is a Master Teacher.  When I've been able to learn something, I've been truly in awe that a being with that much light, and that much wisdom, and that much love would even communicate with me.  But He does.  And it's unlike anything else.  We all need to be in contact with God and His Spirit.

Back tot he scripture this post began with : "Great things" in the verse no doubt refers to eternal things, like people's salvation.  For Alma to say "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass"...those are the words of someone who knows, someone who has joined in the cause of peoples eternal life and immortality.  These are the words of someone with a profound yet simple message.  I think it's informing us about one of the ways the Lord works.  Small, simple.  These verses are not the product of Joseph Smith's fabrications.  This is real.

So how do small means in many instances confound the wise?  Because the wise are blind to it.  They think they already know. They are confounded when something so simple evaded them, and when something small presents higher intelligence than they had.  They think things like "what your eyes do" when a boy first meet a girl are small and stupid. Or maybe they think things like bathing 7 times in the river Jordan are foolish.  "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage." (2 Kings 5:12)  And too often we too find things foolish which are not.  It's our own pride that blinds us to what is often staring us in the face.  But we think we are wise, and so we remain blind.  The irony is awesome.

One note here: The adversary also knows that being subtle is a an effective method to deceive.  So awareness of these things can be very helpful on multiple fronts.  That is a major idea to consider.  The Lord worketh not in darkness, so His ways can always be discerned by their light, and by the Spirit.

Small and simple by their nature are "easy" (in one sense of the word), and so they go unnoticed.  You've perhaps already stopped thinking about what subtleties I'm referring to.  Don't miss them.  Remember not to pass them off because they look small.  You have to pay attention, because they will not command much notice. Yet such things are used frequently by the Lord.  It's easy to be slothful because of the easiness of the "the small and simple".   

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