Sunday’s Wisdom #228: The Value of the Small

“You, with all your power, even you have no right!”
– Optimus Primal, Beast Wars
Episode 25, “Other Voices, Pt. 1”

What Optimus is referring to is, specifically, the right to extinguish life on a massive scale, just to suit an agenda that these living creatures have no say over, but it is the context of this quote that makes it stick out to me.

Optimus is an explorer, and a Maximal. As both, he understands that all life is precious, and he loves it. He fights for it. So when the Beast Wars not only land him in the position of leading his small band of explorers against a deadly and dangerous cell of terrorists, that’s bad enough, but he does not shrink from the call. And then, when the two groups find that they’ve stumbled into the heart of a massive experiment by a mighty, extraterrestrial race, Optimus finds that, yes, things can get worse. These aliens are rather displeased and maybe even afraid of the results of the unintentional meddling, so they decide to sterilize the entire experiment, ie, burn the entire planet’s surface to a crisp.

The aliens may have something of a point, but it’s still a bit like burning down a house just because some toddlers did some aggressive finger-painting on the walls.

Being in the center of this intended inferno, most everyone on both sides is preoccupied with survival, but Optimus? Optimus’ first protest against this destruction was not for himself, or even for his own, but for every other living creature. That’s when he insisted that these aliens had no right to do what they were about to do. And he believed it so much that he would soon risk his life to protect all of these unfortunate creatures who just happened to be caught in harm’s way.

Optimus’ words may have fallen on deaf ears, but there’s something about his simple declaration, in the midst of a most complicated and dire situation, and to a most powerful and dangerous entity, which just lingers in my mind. These aliens, they are big, so big that they’re mostly just a backdrop against which the entire story plays out. Even space-faring races are primitive compared to them. As such, they’ve lost sight of a simple truth, concerning the value of what is small.

I like to think of it like this: it’s the little things that make up the bigger things, and that means the little things are important.

Humans, animals, plants, we are large, and can be very large, relatively speaking, but we are made up of tiny cells. Damage enough cells in our body, and we die.

Civilizations are large, spanning the world and the eons, but they’re made up of individual people. Damage enough of the people, and the civilization dies.

A vast empire that stretches throughout the stars, even the galaxies and further, that is big, but it will still be made of smaller things. Damage enough of them, and it dies.

A king is worthless without his kingdom, his people, the normal, everyday, common people. He has nothing without them. But the commoners could probably get by perfectly fine without any particular king.

The world will never be so large that it will not be made of smaller things; it will never be so great that the little things will not matter; and it will never be so vast that even the most infamous despot’s grasp on power will be any more important than a child’s laughter, or their tears.

There is a value in what is small, as much or perhaps even more than in what is large. It is very sad, and foolish, when that value is forgotten, and “rights” are seen to correspond to how big you are.

Having greater power does not give you greater rights. It’s that simple.

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