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My wife and I recently encountered a ‘small thing’ that had quite a significant negative effect. Travelling abroad to the States, we thought we knew all about it, having done it a half a dozen times before. You go online, check airline prices and choose a carrier and book your seats. The carrier on this occasion was British Airways. Twenty four hours before the flight you go on line again and choose your seat and check in. A good system. So far so good – until when we arrive at the ‘Bag-Drop’ counter at Terminal 5 where we are told we don’t have an “Esta”.  Pardon?  Yes, whereas you used to fill in various entry cards to the States on the plane, the Americans now required you to do it online beforehand and “without it we can’t let you on board. If you would like to go over to the Internet Cafe over there you can do it there.”  Sounds sensible but if only we’d been told beforehand – was it on the booking procedure online?  The fact that there were at least a dozen other frantic people buzzing like worried bees around a sealed beehive all doing the same thing at the Internet area, suggests that if it was part of the online process it wasn’t obvious.

For half an hour we fought with alien pages on the Internet, redirected by a young BA employee my wife managed to find wandering around who seemed to be the only person who knew the best way to achieve this, countless pound coins being fed into the computer, ignoring the tales of other alongside doing the same thing – “I’ve been told it can take 72 hours to get clearance” – until eventually the not-easy process has been completed.  

Now here’s the ‘small thing’: how easy it would have been for a BA computer programmer to have put a lock in the system that said ON LINE you can’t be booked in until you fill this additional form in HERE AND NOW. It would have been such a simple thing to stop those of us who missed the small print (I assume) going through a three quarter hour nightmare. I dread to think what happened to people who had booked in online and assumed it was OK to turn up 40 minutes before the flight left, only to find they were barred entry. Well I’m not sure I do have to wonder because the flight doors closed late while waiting for last minute passengers, so I guess that did happen.

There was a little phrase I half had in my mind so I Googled it and good old Wikipedia came up with the goods: “"For Want of a Nail" is a proverbial rhyme showing that small actions can result in large consequences.”  What a small thing a nail is!  Oh, I think this was a nail missing from a horseshoe:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

I had another experience the other day in a similar vein that suggests that computer programmers should be given lessons on making their sites friendly. This particular case involved some security software. When I bought a new computer a little over a year ago it came with some ‘free’ security software that had a license for a year. A couple of months later the security firm suggested I extended my license so being the compliant, unthinking individual that I am, I did so and extended it to 2014. End of story you might think. But no, the other day the software company inform me that my computer is at risk because my license has run out. No it hasn’t, it runs until 2014!  What they hadn’t made clear when  they conned me to pay money upfront ten months early was that to actually have the ongoing cover, I had to download it. They weren’t going to do it automatically; they would wait for me to panic and eventually (after two days) find what was needed. How simple it would have been if, when I paid the money, they automatically downloaded it. A little thing but a real and worrying nuisance!

I suppose giving instructions to people is a minefield at the best of times anyway. Buy any flat-pack furniture and you know what I’m talking about. This example is really mundane but it’s one of those ‘little things’. We bought a bed – in pieces in a flat-pack of course. We check the pieces and instructions – all there, all clear. We put the bed together and there are four black plastic ‘bits’ left over. I scan through the list of components – no mention of four black plastic bits. It took my wife (I wouldn’t have bothered) a half an hour to discover four holes where these plastic bits fitted – but why couldn’t they have been on the components list and shown on the drawing????

But to go back to something I said earlier, I think it is the little things that make life run smoothly – or otherwise. Positive ones, like saying thank you, holding a door open for someone following you, smiling at the girl on the checkout counter, and probably lots more, these are the things that just make life that much more pleasant. Then there are the negatives ones, like the critical nagging comment, that isn’t a big thing but is there mounting up eventually to a great pile that produces resentment and reaction.  Some people are naturally critical – well they’re not, they’ve learned to be and allowed to be for so long that it’s just part of them now. Each negative may only be a little thing but they mount up.

So, check it out: this week ahead will be full of opportunities to do or say little things, little things that will affect others for good or bad. These little things are important, these little things count.  Who was it that said if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves? It’s the same principle: life is made up of big things and little things and the little things can be just as important as the big things. Do you need to tell someone you love or appreciate them? Is there a phone call needing to be made saying thank you for something? Is there a card to be bought saying, get well soon? The little things count. The little things pile up and change the world.

Quote:   "Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things. I am tempted to think there are no little things."
(Source: Unknown)

14. The Little Things in Life

I have been scanning back over recent articles and realise I seem to have sunk into rather a heavy or serious way of writing, so this week I’d like to try and bring a little lightness, and instead of talking about weighty matters of life, talk about the little things of life. (I may fail!)

By the little things I don’t mean things like drawing pins or paper clips or ants or ladybirds; I mean the little things that seem so small or insignificant that we almost don’t notice them. If you take sugar with your tea or coffee, the absence of that little spoonful is quickly noted. If an old friend forgets to send you a birthday card, it’s a small thing but meaningful.  When you step back to let someone through a door before you, and they just stride through without a word, the absence of ‘Thank you” is a small thing but a significant thing. The small things sometimes act like oil that makes the working of life easier or more pleasant.