Say you’re walking down the hall at your office, on your way to a meeting. Maybe you’re running a tiny bit late, and you’re juggling an armful of file folders and notepads, with your coffee in the other hand hoping not to spill.
You turn the corner and there in the middle of the carpet is a gum wrapper.
What do you do?
If you’re like most people, you keep walking.
You see the gum wrapper, but that’s for someone else to pick up.
Doesn’t matter that it’s trash in the middle of the floor.
Doesn’t matter that this is “your” office.
There’s a janitor or cleaning person of some sort who will eventually come by and whose job it is to pick up the trash.
You don’t need to bother with garbage. Not in your role. Not when you’re already a tad bit on the late side and your arms are full.
Now visualize this scene:
You’re at home. You’re walking down the hall to your bedroom. There’s a gum wrapper on the floor.
Do you pick it up?
If the answer depends on, “Well, it’s my roommate’s gum wrapper” or “I don’t chew gum” or “My mom’ll get it” then there’s a problem.
But there’s actually a problem with the first scenario, too.
We’re not saying that you need to be picking up every gum wrapper.
But what if that hallway at work is instead the front lobby, and there are important people coming for a meeting. Do you pick it up then?
Under what circumstances do you take ownership for something that technically isn’t your problem?
Why do we have different rules for this? Why should it depend on how big a piece of garbage it is, or if you’re at your office, or home, or you’re at a meeting at some other company’s offices?
At what times or in what situations do you break the rules of social convention and do what you’re not expected to do, what other people typically don’t?
When do you stop caring what other people might think?
If you’re at the airport, no, we wouldn’t expect you to pick up the gum wrapper. If you did, you’d be picking up gum wrappers all day, and you’d surely miss your flight.
(Are you the type who discards gum wrappers nonchalantly at the airport because you can’t be bothered even to make sure your trash goes into the trashcan? Are you the person who tosses your garbage towards or near the garbage can, but doesn’t worry about it if it fails to make it in and lands to the side?)
If there’s a piece of trash in the hallway at work, most people pretend they don’t see it.
But let’s look at this objectively.
There’s a piece of trash on the floor.
In civilized society, we put trash in the garbage. At least, that’s the norm in America, when we’re indoors, and we also frown on littering on sidewalks and in nature if we’re out on a trail. (We understand that norms may be different in other countries. That doesn’t make it OK to discard your waste wherever is convenient. We’re all sharing this thing we call Earth and shouldn’t we equally respect it, and each other?)
You can learn who you are in so many ways.
What do you stand for?
Or in this case: When do you stoop?
It’s the actions of daily life that reveal character. If you want to “change the world” as so many of you claim, are you actively trying to change the world even in some small way today?