It’s happening more and more. Something insignificant turns into a firestorm. You throw a stone into a river, and it floods the town. You spend $2,000 on a decorative phone booth, and people get really upset.
I can’t say for sure what’s causing this phenomenon. Is it the availability of information? Is it a “made for TV” media? Perhaps it is just getting easier to share your thoughts with the world in general, and it’s also more anonymous, so people don’t filter out their thoughts as well. It’s actually probably a combination of all three.
Whatever the cause, people seem to make bigger and bigger deals out of smaller and smaller things.
At Eastern Michigan, we saw public outcry over a report from the Echo that the Physical Plant had spent $2,000 on an antique phone booth (plus the cost of paying employees to pick it up). Angry commenters online and people around campus attacked the purchase as, among other things, undemocratic, wasteful and unnecessary.
Let’s put this in perspective. EMU’s operating budget is somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million a year, depending on which funds you include. In other words, $2,000 is
a rounding error in a budget that size. If this was a mistake, it was a tiny one.
Also, the people at the Physical Plant who made the decision to make this purchase had every right to do so. They did not violate any EMU policy or accepted norm, according to the report by this paper, and no one has successfully challenged that claim.
Put more clearly, a lot of people got upset about something that had no practical impact on their lives and did not break any rules.
But eventually all of these little mistakes add up to real money, right? Well, no. This
wasn’t a case of the head of the Physical Plant buying a phone booth for his own collection with university money; it was a case of the Physical Plant buying an item to improve the quality of the campus.
You might not like the purchase, but it fits within the boundaries of the Physical Plant’s role. The message, and it is much broader than a phone booth argument, is to stop caring about things that don’t matter.
If the university passed every penny of the cost onto only the current students, we’d all have to chip in a dime. Give me an address, I’ll send you eleven pennies if you stop complaining.
This problem stretches beyond the few square miles of between Oakwood and Huron. People everywhere get worked up over little things.
Politicians, who are human beings after all, answer a question using the wrong word and it’s a story for two weeks. An athlete drops a pass and talk radio rants about him for three days.
We have so much time to fill on television and so much space to fill online we harp on everything forever. Something that deserves a passing mention gets twenty minutes a day for three days.
What it comes down to is this. Everyone’s a critic. People think because they have the ability to share their opinion, they should. How many of the people who commented on the Physical Plant story could do a better job than John Donegan? I’m sure none of you would ever say the wrong thing at a political debate.
Surely, you’re all world class athletes who are infallible between the lines.
When did this world become a place where we critiqued everything everyone does? It’s one thing to critique big things. Discussing the merits of a war is a worthwhile endeavor, but challenging every single word a person says while making the case for that war is pretty obnoxious.
Next time you have something to complain about, ask yourself two questions. One, is this really worth my time? Two, could I do it better? If you answered yes to both, why don’t you try running for office or playing in the NFL? You might find that the people you’re criticizing for little infractions are actually doing a pretty good job.
Imagine what your life would be like if your every decision was scrutinized by a bunch of armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers.
When you harp on every little mistake, you’re communicating to people they have to be perfect. If you demand perfection from your leaders, you are asking to be deceived.
Was the phone booth a good purchase? Maybe not. But it’s not going to negatively affect my life and I don’t think I could run the Physical Plant much better, so I’m not going to complain about it. If we all spent a little less time sweating the small stuff, we might be a little better at handling the big stuff.