Set sights on the big picture, but don't forget little details

September 02, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

It was one of those grocery orders that came close to requiring two carts.

We were out of just about everything in the pantry, school supply lists were in hand and some hardware was needed around the house.

It took awhile, but we finally got through the checkout and were heading toward our vehicle.

As I was placing bags in the van, I turned and noticed that a package of light bulbs had fallen out into the cart. I placed them on top of a bag and started thinking about what I was going to make for dinner.

Standing in front of the stove a short while later, the thought occurred to me that perhaps those light bulbs weren't added to my bill.


What if they didn't fall out of the bag? What if I had overlooked them in the cart? What if they were never scanned?

That evening I reviewed my receipt to see if the bulbs were on it.

They weren't.

Since I had already opened the bulbs, I cut off the UPC symbol and attached it to my new grocery list.

I thought I'd explain what happened and ask the clerk to add the bulbs to next week's bill.

The reaction I received was not one I had anticipated.

The clerk was reluctant to add the cost to the bill. She seemed to think one little item wouldn't make much difference in the store's overall profit.

"I wouldn't worry about it," she said, handing the UPC symbol back to me without scanning it.

I handed it back to her and politely said, "Well, I'm not worried about it. I just want to make it right. I want to pay for this item, regardless of how small it is."

She cast me a look indicating that she thought I was really strange. It was a look that became even more smug when she scanned the symbol.

Green numbers flashed, "88 cents."

Such an insignificant amount. Why bother?

Because it was the right thing to do. Once I realized that I hadn't paid for an item, I had to make it right.

I've been trying to teach my children that little things matter. If you put a whole bunch of little things together, they add up to a big thing.

The people who are truly successful in life might set their sights on the big picture, but how do they make that picture come together? By taking the pieces of it and putting them into place, day after day. If one piece of the picture is missing, it will be incomplete.

People who tend to care about details and who refuse to let things slide are often the ones on whom others rely.

The best way to gain greater responsibility is to take care of the responsibilities that have been handed to you already. If you do the little jobs well, you'll be given bigger jobs. If you can't handle a little job, you probably won't be trusted with a big job.

More importantly, if your honesty and integrity can be compromised on seemingly insignificant things, what does that say about the choices you will make when the stakes are much higher?

If we expect people to do right, perhaps they would live up to those expectations.

They might be quicker to correct the mistakes they make - or not make them in the first place - if they knew they would be held accountable for those mistakes.

I honestly don't know if my children were aware of what was going on when I returned the UPC symbol to the store. They didn't question my actions. They just silently stood by listening to the conversation.

They seemed to think it was a perfectly normal scenario. That response spoke volumes to me.

I pray they always will have those expectations - of others, yes, but mainly of themselves.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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