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Volume 17, Issue 2: Thema

The Art of Pettiness

Douglas Jones

Have you ever found yourself at a nice dinner party but can't find anything to take offense at? Is it getting harder to make people feel sorry for you? Do the people around you no longer bend to your silent punishments? Do you find yourself accidentally considering conflicts from other peoples' perspectives? Has your extrasensory gift for seeing motives become cloudy?

You might be in the early stages of beneficium creationis, a debilitating condition that causes memory loss, ironic giggling, and flippancy; side effects sometimes last for a thousand generations. Millions have found success in reversing the habits of this condition by relearning the ancient techniques of pettiness, the skills of counting mint, anise, cummin—or as we call it, the art of living small.
Six Crucial Perspectives
In order to develop healthy habits of pettiness, you must start with certain pictures of the world. These should become like glasses you wear and never take off. It's best to wear all of them at once. They may feel a bit awkward at first, but they'll become natural in time.
1. Justice First—One simply can't master the art of living small if you don't wear the glasses of justice. Justice first, middle, and last. Justice on the edges, and most importantly, you have to be convinced that Justice lies at the center of the universe. Life is a courtroom: all order, laws, and bailiffs. To live a good life means following orders; to live a bad life means putting something squishy at the center. God is a drill sergeant. Everything else follows from this.
2. Punishment Delights—The universe does its part laying out the laws, but you have to wear the glasses of punishment. Living small means delighting in punishment. Some beginners have trouble with this. It takes time and a series of disappointments. But people get out of line, and the only way to keep people in line is to punish them. Since people don't often understand the glory of punishment, you will sometimes have to blunt this virtue with masks. Take the moral high ground. Punish them indirectly. Don't draw attention to your punishing. Make them think your punishing is about something else. Punishment isn't just for children or extreme violations. It's got to become the air you breathe. Enjoying punishment is the soul of living small.
3. Simplicity Reigns — Life is always simple. We are monotheists. Only relativists and perverts believe that there's more than one way to see things. The universe is orderly, edged, and snaps together at the joints. The simple is the true. Other people try to hide their disorderliness by claiming complexity. Words have only one meaning. People can only mean what they explicitly say. Coins have only two sides. She's either blond or not. You can't be a little bit decapitated. Don't trust anyone who can't give you a precise definition. Definitions snap together like a good plastic car model. If it doesn't click, it doesn't fit. God gives us definitions so that we might be free.
4. Present Primes—In the long term, we're all complicated. Keep it simple. Don't look at distant horizons. Only wear glasses that allow you to see close up. Don't worry about distances graying off into the future. Keep your eye on the present and don't think about living with this person a decade from now. The weightier matters of the law are here and now. The short term keeps everything important, like World War II. Don't get lazy. Life is a war. Life is a crisis. Remember, you're in a battle for justice and order, and the enemy is always right around the corner. Always keep the safety off. Who cares what happens after the war? Mete out the punishment now during the struggle. Your friends and family will forget what's important afterward.
5. Surface Brilliance—Life happens on the surface, and you are the camera. Remind yourself of that. You are a good camera. Good cameras capture everything. Good photos tell the whole story. Don't allow people to slip into fantasies about what's happening behind the scenes. Only what happens on-stage counts. Behind-the-scenes explanations were first manufactured to confuse honest people like you. Icebergs float on waves; only doctored urban legend photos show ice underwater. Even if there were anything beneath a surface, how could you talk about it? Only argue about photos.
6. Pond Calm — These glasses retain the imprint of life as a smooth, unrippled pond. No plants break the surface; no bubbles. The pond mirrors puffy clouds above. You must always return to this picture to keep you centered. Life is this pond. Set up some barbed wire around the pond. Keep out frogs and fish and skimming bugs. You have a right to calm water. That's why God gave us the Garden of Eden. Life is fundamentally peaceful and shaded, with small pastel birds playing harps. But intrusive and demonic people keep throwing rocks into the water and make all sorts of splashes and bumpy circles. Get those people out of your life. You have the right to destroy them. If they don't stop throwing rocks in your pond, then leave and find another pond. Wear the glasses, though, to remind you of the ideal pond.
Five Basic Maneuvers
Wearing the right sets of glasses, as above, will help, but that can't carry the day. You also need to master the basic moves of living small. You've got to fight off attacks on pettiness. Immature people still don't see its virtue. Master these four habits before moving on to advanced techniques (see below).
1. Wear the Right Face—Once people find out that you're petty, they'll never leave you alone. It will destroy everything. They always assume it's a bad thing and insist on rooting it out. Smallness takes years to cultivate, and you need to protect it in the meantime. Never let on that something is wrong until you are well-grounded (then let loose; see below). Always wear a smile around people, especially those people who throw rocks in your pond. Pretend to be like them, even laugh and giggle often. Many new pettiness artists will often at first feel guilty about this maneuver; it might feel like dishonesty. It's not. Not at all. It's principle. You are standing on principle. You are called to be nice; that is the chief thing, and you don't want to throw any rocks into other people's ponds, so you must wear the smile.
2. Recognize Attacks Quickly—Stupid people rarely know when they're attacking you, so you need to help them out. Many people don't recognize how offensive simple questions can be. Others don't recognize how rude not asking you questions is. You must learn to be both untouchable and central to everyone else's life. Practice pulling back the skin around your eyes without using your fingers. Rehearse this while watching war atrocities on the news, then use the same face when the kids make a mess or someone corrects you. Pale people should also work with a mirror at flushing their faces with color at faster and faster rates. This has connotations of a volcano, and volcanoes often frighten primitives. When you master these basics of taking offense, you can move on to leaning forward in your chair, pointing with two fingers, storming off with yard-length strides, and slamming doors with hair blowing aftereffects.
3. Hone Your Exaggerations—The Bible only tends to caricature arrogant targets, but you need the freedom to realize that anyone who tries to ripple your pond is the enemy. In order to conquer an enemy, you've got to shift your allies into crisis mode, too. Even the Bible exaggerates. Without skillful exaggerations, many allies might suspect you of overreacting. Generally, allies don't have a refined sense of your rights and needs. Demonizing those who challenge your pond will persuade allies to join your quiet defiance. Make sure, though, that allies promise to keep the exaggerations private. Nothing hurts demonizing more than loose lips.
4. Play the Sober Judge—In a crowd of goofballs, always be the mature one. God is a judge, not a child. The universe is deadly serious business, and you need to be the model for weaker brothers. Justice is not for clowns. Start taming your body into seriousness by wearing a long colonial wig with ivory and silver highlights. Walk around the house with your hands on your hips. Stand on the couch and scowl at the carpet. Turn on the TV to a cartoon, then punch the knob off (return hands to hips). Imagine someone reading fiction and tell them you don't have time for that. Then take these habits on the road.
5. Draw the Pity—Other people rarely comprehend how debilitating it is to have your pond rippled. They're never there when you're on the front lines fighting off leaves and frogs. Pity for pettiness is admittedly a hard sell, so you'll often need to venture into the realms of "popularly acceptable" pity. Shallow people recognize genuine illness as something deserving attention, but it hurts to get really sick. But you can go right up to the edge and use sickness as a good tool. An even bolder step, though, is to create problems and then lament. Drive your friends away, and then complain how lonely you are. Others will start feeling sorry for you, and you can start the cycle over again. Be creative with pity.
Advanced Maneuvers
After years of crafting both the fundamental vision and basic maneuvers of pettiness, you'll find it's time to expand your influence.
1. Anger as the Moral High Ground—At times, you might accidentally stumble across the fact that you've sinned against someone. You need to recognize this before someone else brings it to your attention. Before it becomes explicit, you need to get angry and defend something else. Anger is a sign of righteousness. God is often indignant with His people. Anger can be used to remind people implicitly that, though you might have some flaws, just like everyone else, they are forgetting the fundamental goodness you've shown everywhere else. A good show of anger will make others return to their former state of gratitude for all you've done. Be sure, though, that when you see other people getting angry that you try to imagine the sin they're hiding. That person is your secret ally; don't expose him. Anger is a wonderful cover for sin, though the masses haven't picked up on this yet.
2. Silence as Purity—When niceness and anger fail, absolute silence fills a wonderful void. Many people can abide hypocrisy and anger, but they're terrified of silence. They feed on sound, and you can deprive them of their satisfaction by using the sword of silence. If people's reactions have been cooling to the basic maneuvers described above, then start off with silence. Don't widen the eyes or turn red, just drop your glance to the floor and go absolutely quiet. It's best if they call after you. Don't reply. Pretty soon, you might prompt them into silence as well. But at that point, they're just imitators. Your silence stems from your deep conviction that it's better to be silent than give in to any more anger. Silence tends to naturally erode after three days, though. You have usually worn your opponent down by that time; they have returned to a state of gratitude to you. Good work.
3. Keep a Notebook—As you get older, your memory will begin to fade. When you were younger, you could easily recall, even over years, how friends and family had offended you. Some people try to keep a list of sins on small scraps of paper, but at some point you will need a good, strong notebook. Three-hole punched notebooks work well because you can print off emails and other documents to supply precise words. Be sure to keep this notebook well hidden. Few people can understand that you're keeping it so that you can have an accurate record; you simply don't want to slander anyone as time passes. The notebook keeps you honest. It's best used five or six years after an offense. Raise it when the offender can't even remember the details. Enjoy their confession.
4. Extrasensory Motive Reading—Internal, invisible motives are tricky things. They reveal whether someone is evil or nice; they fill gaps in our knowledge; they tell the full sordid story. Motives are the smoking gun. But their invisibility creates all sorts of complications. How can you tell if someone is slighting you or being ignorant? How can you tell if they're covering something or being honest? How can you tell if they are genuine or demonic? Invisible motives settle all these questions instantly. To be a master of the small, you must pray and receive the gift of motive-reading. You must develop a fine-tuned, extrasensory, supernatural gift for seeing the evil reasons people do things to you and yours. Many people think they have this gift, and almost everyone tries it at one point or another, but studies show that devotees of the small can develop true motive perception with regular practice. Motives will start jumping out at you like billboards. But it takes prayer and practice. You can tell the amateurs from the truly gifted, for example, when you get wind of someone reading your own motives as nefarious. They are always so far off base, not even close to what you were actually thinking. Amateurs never get it right, but true artists get better and better with age.
Recovering from Failure
Mastering pettiness is not easy. And you will fail. You will enjoy some holidays and some children. Keep up the fight. But, when you fail, how do you recover? How do you snap out of the big picture? How do you start taking offense again? The trick is cross-matching or transfixing: when one pettiness habit fails, fix the situation by invoking another.
For example, if you find you're starting to lose the thrill of punishment, open up your notebook of offenses. Review the bad things people have written to you. If your silent times lose their edge, revert to the high ground of anger. If you find that your extrasensory motive reading gift starts to fade, get involved in a group effort of some sort and get freshly offended. If you start enjoying silliness too much, ask someone to be honest with you; promise them you'll be teachable.
Things to Avoid
As you develop your skills in pettiness, you'll find roadblocks along the way, things that keep dragging you backwards. Like any skill, you'll have to develop self-discipline; you'll have to avoid the following temptations that so often cause cracks in your pettiness.
1. Holidays—Though a traditional time for exercising pettiness on unsuspecting family members, holidays also have a down side. They can sometimes break through and remind people of what's "really" important to the masses. Luckily, though, this is short-lived. But still, it's best to avoid them altogether; after all, holidays are also quite wasteful and unnecessary. Especially Christmas.
2. Fiction—Trust us on this one. Famous novelists often practice the technique of jumping from one character's perspective to another, and this often feeds the illusion that others have important angles on the issues. Over time, it will weaken your commitment to the sanctity of your own perspective. Dangerous stuff. Film is much safer; it tends to ignore multiple perspectives. Whatever you do, avoid Dostoevsky and Flannery O'Connor. My God, avoid them.
3. Comedy—We've lost so many pettiness artists because of comedy. Comedy has no respect. It tears down everything and refuses to take anything seriously. It strikes at the heart of the art of the small. Wear the smile of laughter but don't fall for its silliness. You don't have time for comedy.
4. Children—You may need to reproduce, for some reason, but try to avoid unnecessary contact with children. They are helpful, when young and needy, to remind you of how life is against you, but they have no ability to carry a grudge for more than three minutes. Everything they stand for works against the petty. Kids are so immature.
5. Natural Parks, Oceans, Cathedrals, etc.—These things were made by enemies of pettiness with the goal of undermining our whole vision. Don't fall for them. They all obsess pathologically about the "big picture, the big picture," over and over. They're really quite selfish. They suck attention away from your perspective just to hog it themselves. Instead, try to avoid vacations altogether; you should be working anyway. If you have to go, think about visiting some old prison camp. That will sober the kids right up.
6. Sex—Be sure to call it this; avoid it as much as possible, except when you can use it as a weapon. But too many times, yikes—it just obliterates a good pattern of pettiness in a marriage and you have to start all over again. Let's not talk about it. It's better to break the cycle.
I hope this brief guide will be helpful to you. Keep it as a reference in your notebook. Certainly, not all of the skills will suit your personal style or circumstances, but if you are able to make just one of these habits a permanent part of your social life, you'll be well on your way. If you are a serious student of pettiness, you might master all these techniques and become a freestyle petty person. You might even go on and invent your own hand-crafted methods and strategies. There may come a time when we no longer need a guide like this, when silliness and celebration have been completely eradicated. Start toward that path right in your own home. Pass on these techniques to your children, and they'll pass them on for generations. Satisfaction waits. Go find someone to punish quietly. Petty on!

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