Searching for Those Who Care.

Today, in the scant five-block walk to the grocery store, I saw a dozen or so popped latex balloons strewn on the sidewalk and adjacent grass areas, a Subway cup wedged into a road sign, three coffee cups with plastic lids left on a wall near the gas station, and a Freihofers cookie box stranded in a bush on the other side of the gas station.

Why are we now a society of people who have no ability or desire to clean up after themselves?

This has become a serious issue, and one translated to the corporate world. Few corporations want to deal with their own waste and they actively avoid any responsibility for the so-called externalities of their production. Child labor? If they can get away with it they’ll engage in it, and claim their subsidiary did it and they didn’t know anything about it. Poisonous waste? They disposed of it legally, and that’s all that matters. Think of the recent cases of Teflon in Hoosick Falls, NY…so long as they deemed the product “safe” in use who cares if it is a detriment to the community in the production phase? And that’s not even touching the end-of-use phase. What happens when that Teflon pan gets put into a landfill and exposed to sun, rain, other disposed goods, all producing methane emissions and creating a toxic sludge? Not the company’s problem – they sold a perfectly “good” pan for cooking; that’s the end of that.

Why don’t we pick up after ourselves anymore? When I was a kid, my parents taught me how important my surroundings are to my actions and movements, and they taught me to clean up after myself. Today when I ride my bike home I get drivers pulling out from parking spaces without looking, pedestrians crossing the street while on their phone, oblivious to traffic, expecting everyone else to watch out for them. Why?

And it is totally contradictory.

I hear people saying all the time they don’t want big government, but with every single purchase and nearly every aspect of their lives they leave the messes for “someone else” to deal with. Well, guess what? That someone else is society as a whole or “government”.

I hear people angry because somebody is in their business, yet they expect the church to absolve them of sin, their doctor to give them all the answers without their own intellectual, personal advocacy for their health, the school to fix their kid without their ever bothering to help their child with homework or serious social stresses, and the police to scold everyone for bad actions…but of course not to scold them…they are somehow absolved of all responsibility.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps we have spent the last 30-50 years convincing ourselves that we are the best, the leaders, the always-correct, forgetting that we are one piece of a big, complex and evolving, society, nation, and world of other nations and species. We learned of our superiority without the benefit of humility. We need to recognize this complexity and constant change in the world so that, as individuals, we realize the importance of personally being aware and open to changing as well.

And as a start, we need to relearn to pick up our own messes. We can avoid making them in the first place when possible, we can work with each other to clean them up, and we can certainly know we have a constant effect on our surroundings and on others.

Clean up your own mess, help your neighbor with her mess, and be greener.


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