“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
My wise mama taught me an important life lesson, one that as a kid I would roll my eyes and think “well when I’m an adult, I’m not going to have to do this.” Instead, it’s a lesson I now appreciate, cherish, and will teach my own kids.
Mama would always say:
When you leave somewhere, leave it better than when you arrived. When you borrow something, leave it cleaner than when you brought it home.
And she diligently applied this rule to every aspect of our daily life:
When I’d try on clothes, mom would make me hang every single piece back up, button it, straighten it, fold the jeans, etc. and give them back to the attendant. When I’d leave a restaurant, if I made a mess on the floor, she’d have me tidy it up. If I missed the trash bin, she’d make me go pick it back up. I’d often get frustrated and say something along the lines of “But they hire people to do this! This isn’t my job.”
She’d make me do it anyway.
Today I walked into the bathroom at my workplace and saw trash thrown near the trash bins and paper towel scraps near the dispenser. It looked pretty bad. Of course the average person probably pulled out the paper towel, grabbed it wrong, let the scrap fall to the ground, didn’t have a second thought, and moved along. The average person also might walk in, see what I am looking at, and think “this looks awful!” and leave with the same thought, taking no action.
This is my second home. It’s where I work, work I take pride in. It’s where my coworkers spend the majority of their waking hours. It’s a place that’s been good to me. I know my coworkers here, their spouses, and their children. I know our mailman. I know our janitors, and know many of their life stories and have shared with them my own.
I stooped over and began picking up all the trash, and tidying the bathroom. It took me about 20 seconds to do.
When we care for these smaller things, when we take time to notice the impact of one person, we start to understand the world differently. We can suddenly see the impact of 10 people who stopped caring, and realize the impact of an entire culture who, out of habit, thought “someone else will do it.” We start to see how little decisions “pile” up – and these small teachable moments translate to every aspect of our life, our home, our family, our workplace, our lifestyle, our culture, our world.