x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The little things can add up to a big change

'Think big' and 'The sky is the limit' are the oft-repeated mantras that exhort us to do better, work harder, get richer, etc. But that kind of thinking neglects the impact small steps can have on problems.

The 18th century aphorism "A penny saved is a penny earned" was coined (no pun intended) by Benjamin Franklin. It means that by valuing even small amounts of money, you will save more of it.

Just because we have some money it doesn't mean we should spend it without care or thought. Some of us like to have the largest, the fastest, the most expensive or the shiniest thing that takes our fancy.

Moreover, "think big", "think bold" and "the sky is the limit" are the oft-repeated mantras in most motivational seminars that exhort us to do better, work harder, get richer etc.

But doesn't this also imply that we can fail to appreciate the smaller things in life?

A few days ago I went to my favourite supermarket. At the checkout, I was packing my family's groceries in the bags - reusable ones, naturally - and asked the cashier what I owed her.

"104 dirhams, stir," came the reply. At the same moment, my eye clocked the figure on the cash register: Dh103.80.

Now, I really don't mind rounding up a payment and leaving a small tip for the service staff. However, I think the option of whether or not to do so should be up to me. Sure, 20 fils is not a big deal but I think it becomes a habit to neglect the smaller things in life, and five times rounding up 20 fils would make a dirham.

Franklin's pithy saying does not just apply to money, it goes for other things as well. We live in a desert region and in a developing country. Since our economy is strong we have access to modern technology and fresh water.

Nobody in the UAE need ever go thirsty since clean, potable water is available, and often for free. This has not always been the case, and our ancestors worked hard to conserve it.

Just as we should monitor our cash, we should check how we use our natural resources. Almost all of our water is desalinated seawater, which has gone through a complicated and costly process. Each drop is valuable. Do we need to run the tap while we brush our teeth? Is it necessary to hose down your car every day?

According to a report by Booz & Company, a global management and consultancy firm, the UAE consumes 83 per cent more water per capita than the global average. Only Saudi Arabia consumes more.

It's not something to be proud of. If everyone on our planet used natural resources as voraciously as we do in the UAE, we would need five planets. A drop of water is just a drop, but millions of drops make an ocean.