After watching a movie at the theater, I stepped into the Men”s room to take care of my full bladder. Standing at the urinal, I noticed that someone had spit chewing gum into it and a simple thought occurred to me. Someone later that day had the job of picking up that gum and disposing of it properly. Yuck! What a crummy task. While I understand that the cleaning of bathrooms is indeed a necessary chore that is performed by a paid employee, it seemed to me that the depositor of the gum could have thought about what he was doing, recognizing that there was a more sanitary way to get rid of the gum. Certainly he could have taken the employee”s feelings into account.
Then my mind drifted (as it is prone to do) onto other similar matters. Who picks up those beer cans flung from cars and trucks? Why do some people feel justified in treating waiters rudely? When folks leave trash in grocery carts, do they think that trash just automatically jumps into a trash bin by itself? And speaking of grocery carts, who would leave one randomly in the parking lot, and why? What about all the garbage on the floors of stadiums and arenas? Do we ever think about the ones who have to pick up after those slobs? And where does the junk come from that lines our neighborhood lakes and ponds? Then there is the matter of traffic. Why are we so willing to be rude to the one who is not driving the exact speed they are supposed to drive? Or why can”t those people with the super-duper stereos understand that the rest of us may not want to hear their rap music?
Have we as a society grown so calloused to the needs and feelings of fellow humans that we are chronically oblivious to one another? What causes us to be so mindless about the little things that can so readily detract from another”s quality of life? Our innate tendency toward prideful self absorption is an ever present ingredient in the personality, and it is so regularly on display that we can easily shrug it off as a minor annoyance. Yet it is the very ease with which we indulge this trait that makes it so toxic.
Some might accuse me of being finicky as I grouse about the petty lack of consideration that is so common to every day life, but let”s think this through carefully. Paraphrasing a teaching of Jesus, we can interpret the manner that we treat the least among us as an indication of the depth of our devotion to God. It is easy to be thoughtful and kind toward someone who is capable of acting in ways that will directly enhance my quality of life, but the mark of maturity is the willingness to be thoughtful toward those who may never have the opportunity to do good back toward me.
Everything we do communicates something. When we leave gum in the urinal or a grocery cart in the outer parking lot, we communicate that we do not care about order, that we feel too superior to do menial tasks, or that there is nothing more pressing than immediate personal gratification. Through thoughtless acts that ultimately inconvenience others, we display a lack of empathy for fellow humans. In fact, such behaviors illustrate that we hardly think of ourselves as connected to those who are not in our immediate line of sight.
I know that many do not like their minds to be stretched to contemplate deep truth as it relates to seemingly trivial matters as gum in a urinal, but let”s do some stretching anyway.
Life is a gift. Life has purpose. Each person has a mission that defines how he or she should interact with the rest of the world. As I consider such notions, I conclude that a chief aim of life is love. We were created by the Author of love, and we can find fullest satisfaction as our behaviors and communications are guided by loving choices.
For instance, when you confront a family member or a coworker, would you do so with a goal of enhancing the potential for love? As you determine how you will prioritize the spending of the family budget, do you contemplate how your use of money will affect your reputation as a loving person? As you maneuver through traffic, do you handle yourself in a manner consistent with loving motives? When you schedule your day”s activities, do you demonstrate that you care about those who will be affected by your work habits? When you want to rid yourself of chewing gum, do you lovingly consider how your decision will affect the day of the custodial worker?
I have heard some individuals protest that they do not want to be philosophical about every little detail in their daily lives. My response to them is that whether we are consciously aware of it or not, each decision, no matter how small, is a reflection of their guiding beliefs. In fact, our management of small matters illustrates everything we need to know about the central beliefs that guide our lives.