It's embarrassing to admit you harbor pettiness in your life, but the truth is that most of us do.
If you're single, you can easily develop the "chip on your shoulder" attitude. While it's painful to recognize that in yourself, it's something that needs to be stopped before it takes over.
We singles are like icebergs. There's a lot going on beneath the surface, and much of it is not good. I used to sabotage myself fairly often before I started to consciously watch for this behavior on my part.
Pettiness has two sides: Picking at others and overreacting when people criticize you.
We tend to lose our perspective. We exaggerate slights or snubs. We obsess over minor incidents. We become defensive in an area of weakness because we're feeling discouraged.
Friends and relatives may be afraid to tell us that we've gotten petty. Maybe we've become so touchy that we perceive even well-meaning advice as a personal attack.
The worst manifestation of pettiness is when we pick at others over minor flaws. Who are we to be correcting others?
One of the prime sources of pettiness is low self-esteem. We pick at others over minor things because it makes us feel superior.
Wise people know how to let things go.
Most of the immature feuds on the Internet happen because people have such fragile self-esteem that they just can't shrug off slights and insults. You've heard the term "thicker skin." In today's climate we need a suit of armor!
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of president Franklin D. Roosevelt, had to endure constant, vicious criticism. She learned she couldn't please everybody and remarked, "You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't."
Petty people have the wrongheaded notion they have the right to judge and criticize others. They like to call out mistakes and try to correct others' behavior.
That kind of attitude does no one any good. Followers of Jesus Christ should be above that pickiness. Jesus said it bluntly:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:1-3, ESV)
None of us wants to be petty. We all want to be able to let slights and attacks roll off our back. When we encounter rejection, we need to stop and think. That's not easily done, but as your self-confidence grows over time, you learn to distinguish between the minor and major.
Pettiness can put you in a constant state of alert, waiting to "tell off" anyone who offends you--whether it was intentional on their part or not. I knew a woman with low self-esteem who constantly berated waitresses, clerks, and anyone else she considered "beneath" her. Needless to say, she didn't have many friends.
One way we can become a wiser person is to stop believing that everybody is out to get us. They're not.
People may be rushed, anxious, worried, stressed, or concerned about their own troubles. Because of those pressures, they may unintentionally slight others. They may be under attack themselves and respond by lashing out at innocent people (like you). Or they may be very unhappy and shortness is their ineffective way of trying to cope.
And maybe you are under those stresses too, and that's why you sometimes react with pettiness.
When this kind of small-mindedness creeps into our lives, it's usually a gradual process. Overcoming it is a gradual process, too. I've found that building and maintaining my self-esteem is a lifelong job.
When I battle pettiness in myself, I try to remember the Golden Rule: I don't like it when people are nasty to me, so I shouldn't be nasty to others.
It's a challenge to be pleasant and cheerful when you don't feel well or when you've just suffered some tragedy or defeat in your life. But it's always wise to think very carefully before you lash out. Here's a truth I had to learn the hard way:
An apology can never erase the effect of hurtful words.
Yes, sometimes you have to "bite your tongue" to keep from saying something mean. Yes, sometimes you're tempted to "put somebody in their place", and yes, sometimes you do want to rip a person the way they ripped you, but is that the way Jesus acted?
Are we Christians only when it's easy? Are we forgiving only when it's convenient? Do we really practice what we preach?
This is tough to take, but we have to remember that other people are watching us, measuring our testimony by how we behave. And God is watching us, too.
If we don't like to be hurt, we shouldn't hurt others. Empathy can help us overcome our pettiness. Patience and forgiveness are qualities we can nurture as well, to become a bigger person.
Overcoming pettiness is not an easy job, but it's a task that God is always eager to help us with.