I work in an office. Every day, around 9 am, I get up from my desk, depart my cubicle, ride the elevator down to the ground floor, and leave the building to take a short walk around the block. It’s good for my mood, and helps to re-energize me when I sit back down to continue my work.
A while back, as I was walking merrily along, I saw a man park his car on the curb and walk towards the entrance to his destination. He paused briefly when he saw a piece of litter on the sidewalk, picked up that litter, and put it in the trashcan near the sidewalk. It was such an automatic response, and I don’t think he knew I noticed, but ever since then I pick up litter whenever I take my walk.
I don’t pick up every piece I see. I don’t bring a bag with me. This is a quick walk. But if I spy a water bottle or a paper coffee cup on the sidewalk, I pick it up and put it in the nearest trash receptacle. It’s no big thing. I do it every day that I work, and by Friday I can sometimes walk around the block and not find any litter to pick up.
The other day I was taking my walk, and a man who also works in my building was walking just behind me and saw me pick up some litter. “You’re going to need a trash bag.” “No,” I replied. “I only pick up what I can carry.” The man proceeded to grumble about slobs and something else I didn’t hear, but he didn’t stoop to pick up any litter on his way back to our mutual workplace.
Be the change you wish to see in the world, they say. Well, this world is a big place, and I’m one person. I could grumble about the litter in the city, and the people who leave it there, or I could use my short, 7ish-minute walk to make one small difference. It’s no big thing. I didn’t feed a starving child in Africa by throwing a plastic bottle in the trash. I didn’t end sex trafficking by picking up the empty cigarette pack. But I didn’t do nothing.
I think people who care are often paralyzed from taking action in the world by the sheer enormity and magnitude of the problems faced by humanity. Will to act is a powerful thing, and even one small action in one short walk can inspire other people to make their own change. My small city block is cleaner because I saw a man stop and pick up a piece of litter, and maybe someone has seen me pick up litter on my walk and has been inspired to do the same in their own daily path.
Pick up what you can carry. Start there.
With great love,