Some months ago, I went looking for a new apartment for my friend and me to rent together. Since I’m pickier than he is, we settled on a price range, and he agreed to go with a place of my choosing. My roommate is a smart guy.
In my hunt for a place to rent, I walked through a dozen or more options. During each viewing, I considered the property’s overall condition, accessibility, parking, amenities, and proximity to each of our job locations. I factored in all of the “usual” things as well as my progressive disease that wreaks havoc on my mobility.
One place that I found online was a townhouse managed by a professional rental company. They had a system in place that allowed me to book a visit to fit my schedule. I could show up at the property, send a text from my phone to confirm my GPS location, and I would receive a PIN code to access the property. I was impressed by this transparent and seemingly secure process.
When I showed up at the place, I noticed a used coffee cup from a local drive-thru at the front door, neatly tucked next to the decorative planters. I assumed that it had been left by someone who had also conducted a solo visit and didn’t see a trash can. The coffee cup was empty, so I don’t believe that it was forgotten.
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This coffee cup bothered me for two reasons. First, that’s not where garbage belongs, and whoever left the cup made it someone else’s responsibility, which I thought was a cowardly way to pass the buck. Second, I realized that whoever came after me would assume that I had left it which would be a poor reflection on my character.
So, I did what any clever Gen Xer would’ve done – I hid it in a kitchen cupboard.
Not really. That was a joke.
As I was locking up the property, I picked up the cup to take with me. I hauled this abandoned piece of garbage with me for about an hour before I found a trash can.
I’m not a “save-the-planet, eliminate-waste” crime fighter. However, I become easily worked up when things aren’t “right.” Now, I know I’m not the judge of what is right and what is not, but I do feel that there are some societal norms to which most people subscribe. I believe that the consensus is that litter belongs in a waste receptacle and not on a neighbor’s front porch.
I don’t think it would have been “wrong” for me to leave it. After all, it wasn’t mine. And what if it was placed there by the homeowner? I’ve seen worse.
Unfortunately, I think many of us when faced with a similar dilemma wonder, “Is it my problem?” or “Is it my fault?” when we should be asking ourselves, “Can I make this better?” or “How can I help?”
I know “right” can be subjective in this context. When I’m trying to figure out what’s right, I often ask myself, “What would Dad do?” My father had many siblings, a couple of stepdads, and, ultimately, a single mom. He fought in Vietnam and was sent home with a Purple Heart after being shot and left for dead. After raising six children and having many career changes, he fought cancer for five years before he passed away.
He had plenty of excuses to give into victimhood or self-centeredness. However, he was a traditional man who always held the door open for others, stood up for civil rights, volunteered with youth drug and alcohol rehab programs, and advocated for the neglected and the oppressed.
I remember one time I was with him in front of a car dealership when he was helping me buy my first car. We noticed a belligerent man on the sidewalk who appeared to be taking out his anger on his female companion. My father stepped in to check on the woman and encourage the man to take a breath and walk away. He managed to defuse the situation. He did not intend to be physically threatening, but he knew that it wasn’t right for one human being to treat another that way.
While I’m not advocating that we insert ourselves into other people’s business, I am suggesting that we do the right thing. We should avoid hiding behind the excuse of “it’s none of my business.”
Although the latter may be true, doing nothing rarely makes things better.
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