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Nancy Napier: Finding calmness in traffic, spiritual walks and Statesman white space

A snail along the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim walk in northern Spain that honors St. James and attracts nearly 200,000 walkers a year.
A snail along the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim walk in northern Spain that honors St. James and attracts nearly 200,000 walkers a year. Special to the Idaho Statesman

I’m always looking for dots to connect and may have stumbled on a few recently: traffic in Vietnam; snails in Spain, and our own Idaho Statesman. The glue that holds these dots together is that in each case, a “small thing” made a big(ger) impact.

Road rage begone?

Every October, we take 20-30 students in Boise State’s executive MBA program to Hanoi, Vietnam, for a week. I’ve just read their “post-trip reflection papers” in which they compare their pre-trip assumptions with what they experienced and learned.

Nearly all are surprised. They expected oppressed, unhappy people. They met individuals who enjoy life, their families and meeting Americans. They expected power outages but discovered widespread Wi-Fi and smart phones. One even found a “high tech” grocery cart unlike any he’s seen in the U.S.

They are all taken aback by the (seemingly) chaotic traffic. Indeed, our first hour together on Day 1 focuses on learning how to cross the street. If you don’t believe me, Google “Crossing the street in Hanoi” and find out.

Amid the mishmash of vehicles, many running red lights or going the wrong way down streets, the students discover an unexpected calmness and lack of road-rage anger. The Vietnamese deal with traffic and don’t stress about it. That “small thing” so affected a few of the EMBA students that they started driving more slowly at home to eliminate that stress. They find they are more relaxed to enjoy other aspects of their lives — like time with their families.

Boom. Small observation, perhaps a big pay off.

Snails in the desert

A second small thing emerged from a photo of a snail in northern Spain, taken by a person who walked the famous 500-mile Camino de Santiago. For many walkers, the five-day stretch on the “meseta,” where few cities or mountains break the flat landscape, is the toughest, because of its wind, wide-ranging temperatures and emptiness. As the “pilgrims” say, the emptiness tests your mind, because that’s where you have to live. Once past it, the reward is Alpine-like valleys and mountains.

And yet, there’s an exquisitely beautiful snail, moving inches in an hour, going forward. This reminds me that, in work and life, some days are just a slog, but also, that just taking a step forward, even in emptiness, is necessary. If a snail can do it, why can’t I?

White space

A last “small thing” for me is in the Statesman’s new layout. Granted, the changes were big for the people who planned and implemented them. But for me, the changes evoke simplicity and lack of clutter. I’ve read the paper the mobile app and on my computer and come away thinking I need more “white space” in my life as well as on the screen. That space helps me focus, reflect, and slow down.

So here’s to the impact of “small things” of traffic, snails, and white space. May I find more every day.