Some weeks are full of MATLAB, market economics, and compounding (and confounding) math. But this week, let’s change it up. I’m going to put the 401(k) on the back burner, and instead talk about garbage, green lights, and the simple responsibilities that we share.
We are all here, on this space rock, hurtling around the sun. The operative word, in my opinion, is we. We are all here, together.
Maybe you draw your boundaries at the town line, state line, or national borders. Maybe you’re a weirdo and think out to the heliosphere. Umm Voyager, you’re no longer part of this community…
Wherever you draw your lines, the people (and sometimes the animals. Yes, even monkeys) you interact with are all in it together. We can’t pretend like we’re on this planet alone, focused only on inward progress. You don’t have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but there are some simple responsibilities that we share.
Cleaning up messes
I was in a Home Depot parking lot in September, and I saw something shiny on the ground. “Oh,” I thought, “Some customer dropped a new plumbing fitting.” I can help out.
I went to grab it and realized this wasn’t a new fitting, but rather an old, broken flushing mechanism. Perhaps someone had accidentally dropped it, but just as likely someone had left it behind on purpose. But there I stood, holding this piece of garbage. And I was left with a choice.
I could put the broken flusher back down. I didn’t create the garbage. It’s not my fault the garbage was there. Why should it be my problem? I could pretend like my path never crossed with that broken flusher.
But our paths did cross. And there was a voice in my head, nagging me, that amending this situation is one of the simple responsibilities that I owe my community. I’m at that Home Depot all the time. It’s in my town. My planet. And yes, weirdo, my heliosphere. I don’t want to be a person who willingly puts garbage on the ground. So I put the broken flusher in my trunk and recycled it at home.
Seeking vs. preparedness
It’s not always fun or easy to clean up a mess you didn’t make. I don’t think we should feel obligated to seek out other people’s messes. I’m not going to hunt for broken flushing mechanisms.
But, in my humble opinion, stumbling across another’s mess is an eventuality of life. My hiking friends in the Adirondacks (shout-out Foot Stuff Podcast) routinely carry out upwards of 15 pounds of garbage that they find along trails, at camping sites, etc. When they stumble across a mess, they’re prepared—both mentally and logistically—to react to it. No one’s forcing them to. They didn’t cause or create the garbage. But it’s their space, and they feel it’s their simple responsibility to take care of it.
So what are a couple takeaways?
- Don’t leave behind messes for other people to clean up. Don’t be a creator of these problems. If you don’t want to clean up others’ messes, that’s fine. You can at least be the commander of your own person.
- Think about how you’ll react the next time there’s a mess in your path. Nobody is ordering you “clean up that mess!,” but I do think it’s worth considering.
Red light, green light
Imagine a line a 10 cars waiting at the red light. The light turns green, and…freeze! In that moment, the person at the front of the line has a very interesting, but simple, responsibility.
If they’re unfocused and delay accelerating, they will waste everyone’s time. Each second rolling by is multiplied by the 10 drivers waiting behind. And some folks at the end of the line won’t even make it through the light before it turns back to yellow and red—those drivers really get screwed.
In today’s cell phone world, I bet most of you have seen this, suffered the consequences of it, or perhaps even committed the delay yourself! Oh no!
That said, we aren’t expecting the first person to drag us through the light. They don’t need to honk their horn, or smash the gas and peel out. They don’t need to exit their vehicle to run back in line and alert us that it’s time to go. We’re not asking too much of them. What we’re asking is so simple.
They just need to react appropriately, lead by example (i.e. just drive), and carry on in whatever direction they’re going. When those behind see that the path is clear and flowing, it’s now up to those individuals to go.
Live life like it’s a freshly turned green light.
- Do the right thing—it’s usually straightforward.
- Be prompt—it’s not terribly difficult.
- Let the others see your path, and let them choose whether to follow you.
I’ve written before with Tom at This Online World about coaching squash lessons. Squash is a cool racket sport with a small, but dedicated community. Personally, it’s one of my favorite hobbies, best workouts, and yes, a source of side income.
Last week, I was approached by a local gym that needed a substitute squash coach while their normal club pro was unavailable. One small issue: the pay was a lot less than I make at my full-time job, and a lot less than I make as a “freelance” squash coach. And you might know how I feel about money and time. In short, the economics don’t make sense.
But, my responsibility at this new gym would be to coach kids. These kids have been playing for a few years and really enjoy the game. They want to get better, and need someone to offer them good advice. They’re kids who will be City League players in 5 years time, and who will be kicking my butt in 10 years. I have an option to invest in these kids and the squash community that has given me so much.
The choice is easy. Of course I’ll share my time and knowledge with these young players. To me, the idea of “sharing freely” is a simple responsibility that improves the world. At worse, I’m getting a small workout, making a little side money, and getting access to the gym’s sauna. At best, I’m impacting kids’ lives, investing in a great community, and paying it forward.
The Symbiosis of Sharing
I’ve only been on this space rock for 29 years, but I’m already a huge fan of sharing freely. It’s impacted my life in too many good ways. It’s the main reason I write here on the Best Interest.
When you share, everybody wins. First, it makes you feel good. Sure, that self-seeking hedonism can be “selfish,” but does that make sharing a bad thing? Because (secondly) the other party feels like they’re getting something extremely valuable. They are getting out far more than they are putting in. Finally, and most importantly, the ripples that sharing creates will affect you downstream in unforeseen and amazing ways.
That bank teller having a bad day? She’ll remember that you asked if her if she’s okay, and she will go out of her way in the future to make sure you get what you need.
The student that you helped through high school math? He’ll remember that you made math fun. When he starts a novel tech company in 15 years, he’ll come back and make sure your classroom is never short of what it needs.
For me, I have gotten so much more out of the squash community than I could’ve imagined when a couple friendly college players offered to give me some lessons 10 years ago. If I can pass that value on to someone else, I know they’ll gain a lifelong passion like I have.
The snowball can start pretty small, but do you know how big it will be at the end? Sharing freely is a wonderful, but still simple, responsibility that improves the world for everyone involved.
What are your thoughts?
This list is too short and too personal to be complete.
I’d be really interested in hearing from you. Whether you just want to mention an idea in passing or fully flesh out your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below.
What are some simple responsibilities that you try to fulfill in your life? Things that matter to all people, or duties that we all owe to one another?
As always, thanks for reading the Best Interest!
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