I am a little dismayed with humanity right now.
I spent last Saturday morning cleaning up my neighborhood. This is an annual volunteer event that the Whittier Neighborhood association sponsors and we’ve done it for a couple of years now. In a matter of a little over two hours my wife, my 3 year old, and myself collected three large garbage bags full of litter. The things that people throw out and leave on the sidewalk and street are amazing. Obviously there are the cans and bottles, the candy wrappers, fast food wrappers, the old newspapers and magazines. There were also expired prescription pill boxes (with pills in them), paint cans, CDs, and some items that are used by young lovers in parked cars that get thrown out when done (ewhh….). But by far the largest number of items I picked up were cigarette butts. There were literally thousands on the 10 blocks that we had to clean. I felt like I was walking in an ashtray when I was done.
It all got me thinking – what motivates someone to not litter? Obviously, it is often easier to just deposit your trash out the window of your car or drop it on the sidewalk – so what makes someone motivated to go to the little extra effort to dispose of trash in a more appropriate place (such as a trash can)? I think that most of it comes down to the “D Drive” (that is the Drive to Define and Defend). I’ve written about this before but here is a quick refresher. The Drive to Define and Defend is about how we defend those things that are important to us when they are in danger – our family, our business, our neighborhood. It is also about how we define ourselves (i.e., what type of person am I) – thus, I am motivated to do behaviors that are consistent with my personal view of myself or that match the tribe or organization I live in. Our motivation to not litter then is based on if we believe that our neighborhoods are in danger of being overrun by trash (not literally overrun, although after my Saturday morning experience, who knows…). Do we look at leaving a candy wrapper or a cigarette butt on the street as not respecting our neighborhood or our world? Think about the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan – did you know that was done originally to reduce litter on the Texas highway system? And it worked – because it helped define the problem for people and also activated their Drive to Defend. It was a great campaign that made people realize that to feel proud about Texas, they needed to ensure that they didn’t “mess with it” by littering. Even the terminology is ripe with defensiveness.
Now if only we could create a “Don’t Mess With Minneapolis” campaign!
While I’m dismayed at the present moment, I’m hopeful that with the revitalization of our neighborhood, that the litter will decrease. People will feel more pride in living here and take more care of our streets and sidewalks. That they will feel the pride necessary to defend the neighborhood from trash and cigarette butts. So please don’t mess with Minneapolis – keep your Butts in the car!
Kurt – kudos to you for taking the time to contribute to your community, not once but twice. You and your family not only took ownership to beautify the neighborhood you live in but you took ownership a second time by putting your thoughts into words to get us all thinking. I get teased often for being someone who stops to pick up trash in my path or wipe up the ‘splashies’ after washing my hands in the bathroom sink (public or private). Neat freak, maybe. But I think it has more to do with respect for those who will soon occupy the space after I have left it. When teased, I always reply (with a slightly bad southern drawl) “My mama always said, ‘leave it nicer than you found it’.” Wouldn’t it be a fabulous world if that guiding principle were as automatic for everyone as, say, blinking or breathing? You’d only stop every so often to reflect on why it’s important and would operate as if it were vital to your existence. Thanks for not keeping your thoughts to yourself, for cleaning up our beautiful city of Minneapolis and for being someone who cares. And for being someone who provokes thought and inspires action. Now maybe I should go retrieve that blog entry that’s been sitting in my Blackberry. Man, you’re good. Say hi to that beautiful wife of yours. 🙂
Thanks Kris – really appreciate it! If we were all like you, the world would definitely be a cleaner and more beautiful place!