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Small Take on a World View

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If what you see leaves you despondent, perhaps an adjustment in what you look for can be an investment in your mental health. Jane Anne Staw has this Perspective.

Waking up to disturbing news each morning has left nearly everyone I know anxious and depressed. Many wise people have suggested antidotes to this state of generalized and heightened anxiety: Join action groups, send postcards to Congress, call politicians to express your opinions, sign petitions, and, of course, demonstrate.

These are excellent and essential suggestions. Action makes all of us feel better. But I have an additional proposal, one that might at first seem ironic in the face of such large problems: Before we act, we need to dispel our increasing despair. I recommend thinking and seeing small.

By small, I mean changing our perspective, taking a few seconds to notice the tiniest bits of beauty in our lives: a fallen leaf curled gracefully on the sidewalk, a bird trilling his heart out on a nearby branch, a smile sent our way by a passerby, an older couple holding hands as they walk down the street.

Before I learned to see small, I was frequently anxious and depressed. Any little thing that went wrong — a harsh word, a frown in my direction — disturbed me. I magnified each misstep or mishap until it took over my life.


Seeing small taught me to refocus my lens on the moments of goodness and beauty around me. In the process, I discovered so much unexpected beauty, and I found myself energized to pursue my passions.

Not only does seeing small offer joy and solace, this perspective infuses me with the energy I need to take action. And when I engage in these activities, my new outlook enables me to fully appreciate the smallest rewards they offer: a warm handshake while canvassing, a “thank you for the work you’re doing” as I conclude a campaign phone call; a honk and a wave when I am standing with placards.

In each of these instances, I connect with another person. This connection, however fleeting, nourishes my empathy and compassion, a dividend as valuable as the outcome of my activism itself.

With a Perspective, I’m Jane Anne Staw.

Jane Anne Staw is a writer living in Berkeley.

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