Why do we strain at so many gnats?
We have a tendency to get hung up on little things. Minor snubs, trifling inconveniences, and temporary setbacks can all easily occupy an outsized portion of our attention, to the detriment of our genuine goals and priorities. We have many metaphors for this phenomenon, including:
- Turning molehills into mountains
- Losing the forest for the trees
- Being penny-wise and pound-foolish
Jesus provided a particularly dramatic metaphor when He described the failings of the religious leaders of His people. “Ye blind guides,” He said, “which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). What a powerful image! Gnats are annoying but harmless. How much attention do we dedicate to annoying yet harmless things, and what important work—or significant dangers—do we fail to address, because of our fascination with the gnats.
Why do we do this? Here are some ideas:
- We have limited bandwidth. We simply have to focus on one task at a time to complete a project, and then we have to remind ourselves regularly to step back, review the big picture, and make sure we’re still on track.
- Our brains are programmed to look for danger. Therefore, when we feel anxious or oppressed, our thoughts tend to fixate on the perceived threats, our thinking becomes inflexible, and we lose perspective.
- Simple problems can give us a feeling of achievement which may be elusive when dealing with more complex problems. That may be why the Pharisees focused on “performances and ordinances” (Mosiah 13:30), such as tithing “mint and anise and cummin,” while neglecting the less measurable “weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23; see also Doctrine and Covenants 117:8).
- On the other hand, distant or vague problems may be enticing because they demand so little of us. Jacob prophesied that the Jews would “[seek] for things they could not understand,” and as a result they would “reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation” (Jacob 4:14-15; see also Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17).
Today, I will strive to maintain my perspective and to avoid becoming hyperfocused on things of relatively little significance.
Leave a Reply