I confess that I used to follow the school of thought that proclaims: Dream BIG. Do it in a BIG way. Puff up yourself as a BIG shot. Size matters. Think small and you’ll get trampled upon.
I tried to do it the big way. I even courted foreigners just to be in their league. Then I found myself floundering. I felt out of my depth. I realized: this is not who I am.
That’s when I enrolled in another school of thought that was more suited to my personality. As I matured, I found myself subscribing to the thinking written on an old postcard: Doing little things well enables one to do BIG things better.
With the downscaling of my attitude and my approach to living, I felt more Pinoy in spirit.
Why? Because we are a culture with a “Heritage of Smallness” as pointed out truthfully by Nick Joaquin in his controversial essay. It is, he contends, already a part of our way of life as Filipinos. We like doing and excelling in small things, shunning the hard and big projects. Konti-konti. Tingi-tingi. Sachet size lang.
Come to think of it. We were never grandiose in our vision. We don’t have a monumental perspective. We can’t speak of a Filipino version of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Great Sphinx, Parthenon, Persepolis, nor Colosseum. We have no equivalent of Mexico’s Mayan and Aztec pyramids, Peru’s Machu Picchu, China’s Great Wall and Forbidden City, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, or Java’s Mahayana Borobudur Temple.
Did our pre-colonial Rajahs and Datus ever build a magnificent fort in Manila? What we have in Manila are ruins of a Spanish fort that can’t even be considered awesome. Our big stone churches were built at the initiative of Spanish friars in emulation of the towering cathedrals in the mother country they left behind.
True we have the Banawe rice terraces. But their basic awesomeness was courtesy of nature. Our ethnic ancestors just carved the existing natural terrain using their hands to level the land for rice planting.
But instead of harboring an inferiority complex about it, why not embrace the reality that we are a culture of smallness and look for its hidden power.
After all, we’re not unique. The Japanese tend to value small things over big. Japan’s economic miracle came about by its ability to miniaturize designs, such as the pocketsize transistor radio. They pioneered small compact cars to reduce urban crowding. Japanese offices, houses and restaurants are awfully tiny. They even have capsule hotels and container van motels. For Japanese young women, small face (kogao) is considered attractive. There’s a Japanese form of poetry that consist of only 3 lines. They even have mini poems called “haiku.” Then they have bonsai, a tree grown in a tiny pot.
What really helped solidify my positive belief in smallness was the “Small Is Beautiful” principle espoused in the book by E.F. Schumacher and published in 1973. To him bigger is not necessarily better, because bigness—in particular, large industries and large cities—would lead to the depletion of our natural resources. He says that we need to focus more on small, simple and sustainable appropriate technologies, because “people matter.”
Just the other day, I was watching an old documentary on air disasters. The take away lesson is “the devil is in the small details.” According to dictionary.com, this idiomatic phrase means “even the grandest project depends on the success of the smallest components.” If not closely paid attention to, the wrong bolt size, or a bolt not screwed properly, can spell the difference between life and death.
Don’t underestimate or disregard the power of the small print. This is where contracts can hide fees and costly terms, yet only 1 in 1,000 of us bother to read it. Companies are hoping you won’t bother reading the terms in small print, because those are what they’re using to rip you off.
Sending money or text online? Proofread it over and over again. The news archive is filled with reports of big banks transferring several million dollars by mistake. All because of a tiny typographical error.
But then “God is in the details” too. This is a quote by American Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. This means that when attention is paid to the small things it can have the biggest rewards and that the details matter. Take a piece of artwork. Seeing the beauty in attention to detail by a painter like Van Eyck can enrich one’s experience. No wonder in India there is a God of small things, which by the way is the title of an award-winning book by Arundhati Roy.
Instead of bemoaning our culture of smallness, Filipinos should look to the future where smallness is going to be the big picture.
If you haven’t noticed, unmanned flying vehicles called drones have been miniaturized. They are now small enough to fit in one hand and weigh only 18 grams even with batteries. Aside from surveillance, the possible uses include search and rescue, wildlife monitoring, communications relay, healthcare and agriculture.
Remember the movie “Fantastic Voyage” where a team of scientists are minimized to get into the body and repair diseased parts or something?
We’re almost there, thanks to Nano Technology.
Nano means “very small, minute”. They say this is the small solution to the world’s big problems. It involves harnessing matter as small as atoms to produce new structures, materials and devices. Using nano particles and devices, we can kill cancer tumors in a more focused way, produce faster microprocessors that consume less energy as well as batteries that last 10 times longer or solar panels that yield twice as much energy. Nanomaterials are now being developed to reduce environmental pollution and contamination.
To be able to ride on the crest of this future technology, we need to cultivate a culture that highly values excellence and meticulousness vis-a-vis small details. Let’s inculcate mindfulness early in our kids so it becomes second nature to them. Let’s empower them to acquire the skills, patience, perseverance and the laser focus to work on minute particles.
Miniature technology is not something new to us. It was a Filipino who is said to have designed and created the PC chipset and the Windows Graphics accelerator chip, which can be found in every personal computer today. In our industrial zones, we have Filipino workers making microchips in some of the most reputable and highly ranked semiconductor companies in the world. So let us just build on this solid foundation.
Just as creativity is our soft power as a people, smallness can be our strength.