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Details make the big picture

Derek Franz
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Details make the difference. Not just “a” difference, mind you – The difference.

A simple detail, for example, could have resulted in my friend falling to his death while we were climbing in Yosemite National Park six years ago.

Todd climbed up to my sloping little perch on the granite cliff. We were 300 feet off the ground and bad weather was rolling in. Rain drops dappled our faces by the time Todd reached the exposed little alcove and clipped into slings that I was already tethered to.



Once he was anchored, I took him off belay. He untied from his end of the rope and we threaded it through the anchor so that we could rappel (lower ourselves down the rope to the ground). Todd sat scrunched against the wall, his butt on his heels and his toes pointing to the cascading waterfalls of the Merced River far, far below. He was clipped to the anchor with a sling that hung slack.

It was only after he re-attached himself to the rope and started to rappel that Todd realized he had not been clipped to anything. While his carabiner appeared to be clipped into the loops of webbing, it didn’t pass through any of the tied-off loops. His safety on the ledge had been an illusion, like a trick knot that comes undone when it’s pulled.



Both of us had been climbing for 10 years. By that time, we had experience sleeping on the side of enormous cliffs, dangling from ropes for days on end. Yet one detail slipped by unnoticed, and it could have cost Todd’s life.

“People don’t seem to care as much about details anymore,” my girlfriend’s dad said during a discussion about the decay of our language. “I’ve seen letters written by soldiers during the Civil War and their handwriting and English were better than today.”

I agree and it ticks me off that there are plenty of adults – smart adults – who don’t bother to capitalize sentences anymore. Perhaps this is a result of lazy habits made via constant text-message abbreviations. They spell “their” as “there” and roll their eyes when someone corrects them. “Whatever, you know what I mean,” is the response.

For now, yes, I might understand what the person is trying to articulate. But then we get used to those shortcuts and more shortcuts are made. Soon our written language, effective because of its standards, won’t mean much at all, as each person starts writing according to his or her personal habits.

I think our tendency to glaze over details is also evident in politics today. Notice how it’s the details that always seem so fuzzy around politicians, as they try to pander to everyone and neglect to articulate true ideas. They get away with it, too, because we don’t really expect them to outline everything so specifically.

If we keep letting details fall to the wayside, eventually we are bound to let too many important standards collapse. Sure, one misspelled word is only one word – but each word stacks on top of the next to make something bigger than itself, just like people in society.

Details together make a whole. Thus, details make the difference. That’s why I try to write correctly in everything I write, even in text messages; I don’t want to get in the habit of poor articulation. (How often does a habit lead to a person’s undoing? Often, I think.)

My fellow citizens, I beg you to do the same. Always try for your best. Always learn, always improve. The occasional failure must be forgivable, which is why we must always try our best, so that the many can hold up the few at any moment. Together we can make a safety net.

Our country needs us to be at our best right now, because each person plays a part in the big picture, like every pixel on the TV screen. Don’t count yourself out or let the details slip through your hands willy-nilly.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Glenwood Springs. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com. Only legible responses will be read (wink).


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