Tetras in the Sea

George Lucas is a wise, wise man. I went to see Star Wars episode 2 on opening night, and came out with something of a revelation. Significance.

I came out of the movie ranting about how cool Yoda is, and how cool lightsabers and Jedi duels are. After a suitable period of rant time (and a few episode 3 predictions), I came to the following conclusion: “And this whole ‘not being a Jedi’ thing sucks.” My dad asked, “Who’s not a Jedi?”, and I had a one-word answer for him: “Me.”

I realized later, though, what it is about Jedi knights that’s so compelling to me. In addition to the powers and the wisdom and the lightsabers, any of which I would LOVE to have for my own, what’s really compelling about the Jedi is Significance. They have the ability to shape their world, to make a difference. And not just a minor difference; a single Jedi can set forces (no pun intended) in motion that can alter the galaxy, even the universe, forever. They are the epitome of Significance among trillions of insignificants.

Significance is what I want for my own life. It is also something I respect in others: the ability to carve out a chunk of Significance for themselves in a positive way, and hold onto it for dear life.

It occurred to me to relate this idea to the old cliché about being a big fish in a little pond versus a little fish in a big pond. We have little choice in the matter; we are by default born into a colossal pond. This is a side-effect of civilization; the larger a society we live in, the bigger our pond, and the more insignificant we feel. We are born tetras in the sea. The neon tetra is a little tiny goldfish, about an inch long fully-grown.

This is where interpersonal relationships become important. Individuals and small groups give us smaller ponds. We define groups in which we can have positions of Significance. We gather in small schools of tetras, and swim within aquaria and bowls which we create within the vast ocean. The smaller the bowl, the greater our own feeling of significance, from friends, to family, to a single romantic partner, to whom our significance can be immense. A tiny little bowl just a few inches across containing but two little tetras who mean the world to each other. (Okay, that was excessively sappy, but I’m trying to make a point.)

Of course, unlike the neon tetra but like the koi, human beings have the potential to grow to a size commensurate with the pond in which they live. Some people, instead of or in addition to shrinking their pond, grow larger in an attempt to fill the space allotted to them. People take action, make a difference, educate themselves, get noticed, pursue goals, and do interesting and notable things. They act intentionally and insistently to increase their own significance in a positive way.

And that is the basis for my next rambling.

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