Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Crisis of Conscience, low-stakes edition

I like to believe I define my identity through what I say and do. At best, this is partly true since, in moments both big and small, forces I neither understand nor control exert their influences on me. Exhibit A: the trivial matter that confronted me around dawn Monday.

As happens some workday mornings, I had to run to catch a bus. I made it, and the bus turned out to be late. That gave me a few minutes to grimace to myself about Murphy's Law. It also meant while pacing around the bus stop, which abuts a gas station. I started noticing trash on the ground: an empty bottle of Powerade, an open milk pint, empty wrappers from Hostess products.

Enter: my conscience. See, I've trained it this school year to prompt me to pick up and throw away trash, especially on the walk into school from the closest stop where I exit the bus. How did I train it? Through repetition, stooping to pick up detritus rather than passing it by has apparently created a persistent habit.

And that habit was now speaking up. "You can't leave that garbage there," it nagged.

"Why not?" I imagined my ego protesting. "I'm not responsible for every piece of trash I meet."

"Why shouldn't you be?" parried my conscience.

"Not my appointed rounds," I said. "I don't usually use this stop. Besides there's no trash can. What do you expect me to do -- put that crap in my bag to carry until I reach the bin at school?"

And then I saw, through the darkness, across the street on the corner, a large trash-bin shadow, recognizable as a newly installed unit with spaces for recycling, compost, and landfill rubbish.

"The bus is coming any moment," I offered lamely. But it wasn't.

My last rationalizations drifted away with the sigh I expelled. I scooped up the wrappers, the plastic bottle, and the carton (pouring out some liquid and pointlessly rattling a frozen milk chunk that refused to shake out) and scampered across the street -- a good Samaritan jay-walker -- to deposit each item in its respective receptacle. Compulsion may never have felt so good.

19 comments:

  1. Powerful mantra: "... I define my identity through what I say and do." Thanks for a delightful read with a challenge to live responsibly.

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  2. My grandpa always taught us we were to leave a place better than we found it. So throughout my childhood when camping or hiking, we picked up trash when we found it. When I had kids of my own, I repeated the same thing (and passed it on to a few of my friends kids). Now I teach it to my grandkids. Every day, on my way into the school building, I would pick up the trash in my path. It's a little thing. But it can make a big difference.

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    1. Speaking of accruing difference-making... Kudos for that subtle teaching across generations that you describe.

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  3. Your post reminds me of this Nelson Mandela quote: "It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it." Good on you!

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    1. This is not a moment that initially had me thinking of Nelson Mandela, so thank you for making the connection.

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  4. Great post. I am trying to be a good example around school, picking up things, mostly paper and pencils, I find strewn about the halls, classroom and locker room. You are far braver than I, touching real trash!

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  5. Delightful. And the memory & examples set by Henry Pennell come rushing back. It's all good. !gnilims peeK

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  6. I have the same experience when I walk by a garden under heavy assault from weeds. I justify inaction by reminding myself that property doesn't belong to me. Unfortunately, however, litter ends up belonging to all of us.

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  7. Good for you! This is a really well written post. I love the dialogue between you and you. It's funny how at times we become self-appointedly in charge of things that don't seem to matter to others.

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    1. I suppose: What matters (like beauty) often lands in the eye of a beholder.

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  8. Great post! I've had similar arguments with myself sometimes. I love that you've trained yourself to make the world a more beautiful place. Thanks!

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    1. Your comment made me see gestures like what I describe as a kind of addition by subtraction. Thanks for sparking my thinking.

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  9. I've done stuff like this before. It feels good to do the right thing, doesn't it?!??!

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    1. Indeed, it does. Or at least I dodged, for now, the guilty weight of inaction ;)

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