The act of making someone feel small by criticizing or berating them is a heinous thing. I do not suffer from a lack of memories to draw on to conjure that feeling - that internal shrinking of your spirit, very often mirrored by a physical shrinking/drawing away from the world. I've read that the legal profession has a disproportionately high percentage of sociopaths in its ranks (or maybe it's psychopaths, but I think the result is the same). My experience would bear this out - there are a disproportionate amount of lawyers who seem to thrive on making associates or staff members feel worthless over the tiniest of mistakes. As a baby lawyer, I was recall being asked by a partner why I would ever do something in a particular way. The answer being, because I did my best - in absence of any kind of mentoring or guidance - to model my work product on those already in existence. Or later, after triple checking an email that was only going to an internal partner, immediately getting reply letting me know that my perspective was useless. Pray, tell, why did you even ask me, then?
Still, there are other times when I am made to feel small in a way that actually helps negate the impact of the other kind of smallness. When I am in nature, far away enough from light pollution to really be able to take in the stars, I feel microscopic. The sheer vastness of the universe is breathtaking. And for all the stars we may be able to see in a dark night sky, it's still a tiny fraction of those that exist and doesn't nearly begin to provide us with a scope of the endlessness of the universe.
When I am made to feel small by the magnificence of our earth, I also feel miraculous.
How spectacular is it that we even exist at all? A confluence of events, set in motion billions of years before, have landed us in this here and now. How improbable, and magnificent, that we are alive and have the awareness to perceive our existence. When relating questions posed to her on whether she expected to ever reunite with her late husband, Carl Sagan, when she died, Ann Druyan wrote that she did not. Instead, she and Sagan had lived with the appreciation and knowledge that them finding each other, "in the vastness of space and the immensity of time" was improbable and nearly miraculous, and in that spirit were grateful for each day.
I'm no longer religious, but feeling small in the face of the endlessness of space and wondering at the majestic Rube Goldberg machine-esque chain of events that got us here today is as close to a perfect religious experience as I can imagine. And if I can be made to feel small by our universe, so too can my problems. The 15 email messages waiting for me in my inbox are minuscule issues. My anxiety over turning in a draft of a motion, lest I missed one typo, is a grain of sand in the grand scheme of things. My feelings and anxiety are still real, but are put in perspective by their relative insignificance. I can't always live in that bubble of awe, but what a useful tool to have in my toolbox.