My wife takes late afternoon walks around our neighborhood to walk the dog or for general exercise. Sometimes she takes our grandson with her, teaching him about the value of observation and exercise.
Other times she will take a bag and gloves with her to clean up the trash along her walk. I've been on a few of these walks, helping her. After the 20th or so scoop of potato chip bags, fast food cups, Starbucks cups, and Styrofoam dishes, I couldn't help but ask. "Why do you bother, when you know people are going to trash it up again in a couple days?"
"Because I live here, and I have to look at it."
There should be no question why my wife is one of the most inspiring influences in my life. She has another saying, "we have no control over people, all we have control over is how we react to them."
Most people look at litter and complain. Many say it's someone else's problem, that we hire people to keep our streets clean and if they're not, then someone surely must not be doing their job.
"It Begins With Us" tells another story. True, we have no control over people, but what we do have control over is ourselves and what we do in the world. What we do with our spare time, the actions we take, and what we teach our children create waves that you can't even imagine. This simple act of picking up trash on her afternoon walks has changed me.
If you've been following, you know I love to surf. I regularly see garbage floating on the ocean. Clothes washed out by the tide, dog poo bags (I surf near a dog beach sometimes,) gum wrappers, tennis balls thrown too far out for the dogs to retrieve, tangled fishing line, even diapers. Freaking plastic coated non-biodegradable baby diapers. There has to be an irony in bringing a child into a world that you have no reservation about trashing up.
Now I take the extra minute to take it out when I see it, gather it up by hand, stuff it into the corner of my wetsuit, carry it to shore, and find the trash bin.
Men are generally slobs (I know, I am one,) and I work in a building that is pristine, with posh tile walls and well-maintained restrooms. Even with the cleaning crews making the rounds twice a day during business hours, the restroom is always littered with paper towels. This is not a minimum wage place of business, my co-workers are considered middle to upper class workers, 80 - 150K a year. But still, they have a problem directing the paper towel waste to the trash can. I wash my hands, throw the wet towel over the litter, scoop it up and put it where it belongs.
Over a few weeks time, I began to see less bits of paper towel on the floor. Is it possible someone saw, and was inspired themselves? No one knows what small action you take that may inspire someone.
We can't make people take responsibility for our world. What we can do is take some of that responsibility on ourselves in a pledge to do what we can, even in the smallest way. It doesn't have to be huge. Just a small act on an afternoon walk in the neighborhood.
It begins with us. Are you in?