Published on February 21, 2020

its the little things

Little Things Make A Difference

No Small Thing “What is a little thing is just a little thing. But to be faithful in a little thing is a great thing.” —St. Augustine

The date was June 17, 1972. The location was the Watergate Office Building, specifically the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters.

As Frank Wills, the security guard for the Watergate, was making his rounds, he noticed that there was tape on the latches of doors leading from the underground parking into the offices. He thought that maybe it had been left behind by some engineers who had been working in the building earlier in the day. He removed the tape, closed the doors, and went about his work. When he came back and found the tape back on the doorways about an hour later, he called the police.

The call was responded to by three plainclothes officers. After verifying their badges, Wills accompanied them on an office-by-office search of the building. It didn’t take long for them to discover five men hiding in the DNC offices—with bags of lock picks, cash, and sophisticated bugging equipment. They were promptly arrested. And the rest, as they say, is history. Wills set into motion the discovery of the abuse of power scandal we call “Watergate.” Through his actions, he made history.

In a building with virtually no history of burglary, and in a time when private security personnel were armed with just a walkie-talkie and a cannister of mace, it may have seemed like an overreaction to call for the police. (In fact, that may be why plainclothes officers in the area responded, instead of a regular squad car.) It could have been seen as enough to just write it up on the report log or leave a note for the supervisor to deal with it in the morning. But that’s not the way that young Frank Wills saw things. And had he not done his job with decisiveness and care, it is likely that the break-in would have gone undetected. Little things made a difference.

There is actually more to the incident that night. One of those involved in the break-in later wrote that they discovered that the tape they had placed on the doors had been removed, and they nearly called off the break-in. But after talking about it for a few minutes, they decided that it was too small a detail to worry about, and they promptly re-taped the latches. They were wrong. It seemed like just a little piece of tape or two, just a small and quick decision.  Those little things made a difference.

A basement-level break-in was bungled by people who assumed no one would notice. A security guard paid attention and acted accordingly. Police officers took his call seriously. One thing led to another. The note that Wills wrote in the logbook that night is now in the possession of the National Archives—part of our shared history. Evidence that little things make a difference.

We aren’t goldfish, but sometimes we act like we are—and our attention spans are just as short. Sometimes we think that multitasking doesn’t distract us from the important details, but it does. Sometimes the information we need is buried in the details, and we choose not to ferret it out. Sometimes we just have too little time to do too many things. This list could go on, but you get the point. Or if you don’t—here it is: little things make a difference.

Frank Wills was never properly recognized and appreciated for what he did that June night in 1973. But he still has something to teach us: Pay attention to the little things. They make a difference.

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