It All Adds Up

In a recent discussion on Twitter I brought up the importance of first impressions to people interested in the STEM fields. One point I made was that decisions aren’t always made out of one big moment, but sometimes lots of little factors play into it. “Little things add up to big things,” I had said. One person responded with “no, little things only become big things if you dwell on them. Let them stay little.” The attitude expressed felt fairly dismissive towards little things being important. It made me think and wonder how well the “little things don’t matter” holds up to mathematical scrutiny.

I mean, a 3% interest rate is a “little thing,” right? Well, no, not when compounded monthly over a long series of time. Sock away $1000 for fifty years, add $100 a month over that time, and see where the interest takes you.

How about a tenth of a degree, that’s a “little thing,” isn’t it? Well, if I’m aiming at something 10 meters away, maybe. I’m off the center of my target by a centimeter. But at 100 meters, I’m off by ten times that distance. If I’m aiming at something that’s 200 million kilometers away, say Asteroid 67P, well guess what?

Maybe 0.1% of a population is a little thing, right? Depends on the population. With 7 billion people here on Earth, that’s still a sample of 7 million.

Little things add up.

A cell in the human body is a “little thing.” What happens when one cell mutates, does something a little different, and passes that sequence on to other cells nearby? Now it’s a tumor, and someone’s life is on the line.

A platelet is a little thing. But platelets build blood clots. A clot in the wrong place causes a heart attack or a stroke.

Little things add up, even if you don’t pay attention to them.

A guy giving a woman a “once-over” might be a little thing. When it happens so many times in a day, when a woman starts wearing paranoia as a form of armor because she doesn’t feel safe, even where she works? Is it so little any more?

An act of microaggression is a “little thing.” Then a co-worker does this sort of thing to you every day. Not listening, yanking tasks out from under you after you said you were working on them, not calling you by name, not knocking on your cube before talking to you, not communicating during a vital project, dismissing your ideas because he didn’t come up with them, and talking over you in meetings. When your manager wonders if he has to professionally separate the two of you, and you say “I’d accept that,” then it stops being a little thing.

Little things add up.

Thirty minutes is a little thing — not a long time at the very least. But if that thirty minutes is spent walking, that can lead to weight loss, better fitness, a better self-image, and even a positive outlook.

A word is a little thing. Put enough of them together in the right order using the right set of skills, and you have a novel.

A photon is a little thing, but their presence is what we need to see.

Little things add up. They can become big things whether we like it or not. What matters is how we treat those little things.


1 comment so far

  1. Beth on


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