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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The new toilet paper problem

Just now, as I was walking to the kitchen to heat up my lunch, I had an epiphany.

In our office, one of the HR ladies has taken it upon herself to collect cans for recycling. When she reaches $100 in money exchanged for cans, she donates that money to a charity in the company's name. She does it on her own time and of her own choosing.

So, whenever the recycling bins get full, she goes around and collects the bags of cans. Today, she had done just that, leaving an empty plastic bag hanging over the side of the bin. As I walked to the kitchen, I passed not one, not two, but THREE of said bins, each with a new bag hanging over the edge -- and a soda can sitting in the bottom of the unlined bin.

That's when it hit me: this is the root of many of society's ills.

I'll call it the New Toilet Paper Problem. We've all done it sometime in our lives; when the roll of toilet paper runs out, we get out a new roll, but we don't bother to actually put it on the dispenser, because we think somebody else will do it.

That's the answer. That, in a nutshell, is the reason why so many things in our society that should be done, don't get done. This is why people decide not to vote, or recycle, or volunteer for a fundraiser, or attend PTA or city council meetings. It's why lawmakers don't introduce risky legislation, why governments neglect to feed the starving millions. It is why concerned citizens don't start petitions or lobbies or rallies for their cause. It's why the leaves don't get raked, the litter doesn't get picked up, the trash bags don't get put into the bins. It's why files get left in piles in the workplace, phones go unanswered, shelves go undusted. It's also why people don't sing, or dance, or write, or paint or create right away when they feel the urge to do so. It's all because we think somebody else will do it.

We are living in a time of epidemic social apathy. I see it very clearly in my own generation. I'm not advocating any particular political, social, economic, or theological philosophy here; I am simply encouraging us all who have a particular philosophy to exercise it. We live in a country that allows us to participate in every aspect of our lives. We can vote for who we want, say what we want, think what we want, and do what we want with our lives, yet so many people merely sit on the shoreline and wait for somebody else to make the waves. They don't even have to be big waves. Maybe they're only ripples from a pebble dropped in, but even those seem to be harder and harder to come by. Society has conditioned us to believe that somebody else will change that toilet paper roll. So we wait.

I've just realized that the toilet paper roll isn't going to change itself.
I want to try to condition myself not to wait for others to do what I can do myself. I want to be the somebody else that everyone else is waiting for.

Even if it's only a matter of putting the trash bags in the recycling bins or changing the roll of toilet paper.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.
~Mahatma Gandhi

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