Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom reflects on making a small difference in the world
Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.
Table tennis champion and best-selling author, Matthew Syed, tells us that if you want to become brilliant at anything then you need to break a large goal down into small parts, and then gradually improve each of those small parts. Once you’ve put them back together, you’ll have improved your overall performance. The idea is called 'marginal gains' because the small areas you manage to improve will help you make a big improvement overall.
So, for example, if you’re trying to get better at a sport, you might want to look at a number of different factors: your warm-up routine, your diet, your technique, whether you can fit in a bit more practice etc. Marginal improvements in each area will lead to bigger improvements overall. It all makes sense: any big task will seem overwhelming, but break it up into smaller parts and it’ll start to look easier.
This week, I’ve challenged our pupils to think on a much larger scale. It’s all very well considering how we might make marginal gains to our exam success, our violin playing, or the hockey team’s performance… but we also need to look beyond ourselves – our own success and brilliance – to the wider world. The shortest route to misery, I believe, is thinking exclusively about your own happiness.
So my question is this: what small steps can we take to change the world? Sometimes, of course, the world’s problems just seem too big for us to face: how can we who are so small actually begin to think about solving them? When we think about climate change, the problems of Brexit, the hunger and the wars, what on earth can we do to make a difference to such large scale problems?
Well, I think we need to take a 'marginal gains' approach to these, too. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. As a Christian, I believe that every small contribution to make the world a better place is valuable in God’s eyes, no matter how tiny it might seem to us.
In the story of the widow’s mite, Jesus is watching people put money into the Temple treasury. He sees the rich people putting lots in, but then he sees a widow placing in two copper coins and he says: ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
I’m asking our school to get involved in something called the Big Battery Hunt in which we’ll be collecting batteries for recycling. Some might think ‘what difference will that make?’, but each battery we collect is a battery that won’t be going to landfill – and every year we throw away 600 million batteries: batteries which can take 100 years to decompose, batteries which if they’re recycled have useful materials that can be used for other things. It’s such a small, simple thing, but these things can and will make a difference, so please send in your used batteries…
Mother Teresa said: “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”