Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Picking up litter: it's not about anyone, not even me

I wanted to write an update on my 'be the change' experiment.  Rather than dealing with everything at once, I thought it'd be easier to look at each section of what I've committed to doing.

So - litter. I've been picking it up.  Not all of it, or frankly I'd never get as far as the newsagent, but I've been picking up bits here and there.  Nobody has said anything to me about it, so all I can report on is what goes on in my own mind and emotions.

The first couple of days, I was terribly self-conscious about picking up litter in the presence of other people.  What would they think of me?  Nutter?  Exemplary citizen?  Someone whose hand they'd like to shake, just as soon as it was disinfected?  I'm pleased to say that these self-absorbed thoughts quickly subsided.  Picking up and binning the occasional tin can or crisp packet has become a habit and, on the whole, I don't give a thought to what other people make of me for doing it.

It's easy for for my mind to make judgements about the people who have dropped litter and to invent stories about what it means about me that I'm picking it up.  This comparing and judging is unhelpful.  That's in part because it makes me resentful, irritable and self-righteous (which are not happy mind states), but also because harbouring such thoughts is inimical to my other aims of being friendly and to view people as fellow humans rather than as label-bearers.

It's been surprisingly easy to let go of those judgements when they arise: I remind myself that picking up litter is something I have chosen to do as a very small way of being the change I want to see in the world.  It means nothing about people who drop litter and it doesn't mean anything about me.

I'm also getting a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation of the area I live in.


  1. I like this post. I pick up litter at work (a school) but i think I might only do it to be exemplary to the pupils. And because it's a good thing to do in general. but youre right, i should just do it without thinking, which i suppose over time i've begun to do to an extent - i give it far less thought now than the first few times i did it.

    1. Hi Andy,

      I think it's rather noble to pick up litter as an example to pupils. For myself, I'd worry that doing it for any reason other than that "this is something I do" would end up feeling like a duty and a drudge. But that's just me.

      Do you get the impression that the kids notice, or that it ha an effect on them?