Excuse me, did you drop this?

This quote caught my eye some time ago, so I saved it. “To leave the world better than you found it, sometimes you have to pick up other people’s trash.”  (Bill Nye) 

I think the quote is true and good advice, but I also believe that there is nothing wrong with bringing it to the attention of the offender (thus the title for today’s post).

I suppose that I am becoming (if not one already) an old curmudgeon; however, I just can’t let some things go by without trying to bring it to the attention of the offender and bystanders (some might call it shaming).

I live in the small Village of Milford in Southeastern Michigan. Like most villages, towns and cities we have laws that were enacted for good reasons, many for reasons of public safety. Our streets have signs clearly pointing out places where (and who is to) to stop at corners and where and when left hand turns cannot be made. Yet every day I see people choosing to ignore those signs. They are effectively thumbing their noses at our laws because to obey them might cause them some inconvenience.

I take whatever opportunity I get to point to them as they go by or to honk at them if I see them making that illegal turn or cruising through a stop sign intersection. Sometimes they just smile at me sheepishly and acknowledge with a head nod that they realize what they have done. Sometimes they are so distracted by looking at their phone that they don’t even see me. Sometimes they show their complete disdain for our laws by flipping me the bird. Those last ones are the most disgusting of all, since they obviously know that they are breaking our laws and just don’t care. They are saying, “Your stinking laws don’t apply to me.”

Another sign of this self-centered disdain for others is the litter that we see on the sides of streets. Many feel that, when they have finished their takeout meal or drink, it is OK to just roll down the window and toss their trash out. Others, taking heed of Nye’s advice, adopt sections of roads and spend hours picking up that trash. Which do you think is leaving the world a better place?

I think that kind of self-centered disdain for others and the rule of law is at the core of much of the political unrest in the country. The concept of “we”, that we are all in this together, has given way to the concept of “Us” vs. “Them”. Obeying the laws of the land has always been largely a voluntary thing, but it was more the norm before the deep political divide that now seems to have hold over the country. The appeal of individual freedom to do as one pleases has come to dominate our thinking and weakened the concept of the collective good (a bedrock of societies) and the rule of laws.

I don’t disagree with Nye’s thought that we must be willing to pick up the messes that others leave behind, but I don’t see anything wrong with also letting them know that what they did is not right and not in the common good. We must continue to promote and reinforce the common good; otherwise, we just join one of the groups – Us or Them – and that’s not good for anyone.

Excuse me did you drop this?

One Response to Excuse me, did you drop this?

  1. John Freed says:

    We can only change our world one event at a time. But if nobody did anything, nothing would change.

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