The world’s nearly eight billion people can be classified into three categories.
Yep, only three.
These categories aren’t based on religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or politics.
You don’t believe me, do you?
The categories are as follows:
- People that litter.
- People that ignore the litter.
- People that pick up litter.
That’s right. All people can be sorted according to their environmental impact.
I was raised by a nature-loving dad nicknamed Jungle Jim. Mom called him this because he loves to hike, camp, backpack, hunt, and fish. Together they raised their six kids to love, enjoy, and respect the Montana wilderness.
But, my parents went to infinity and beyond the “Pack It In, Pack It Out” mantra.
Our ritual upon arrival was the same whether we were staying a few hours or a few days. We picked up every little scrap of litter within a softball-diamond radius.
Every microscopic piece.
The cellophane tabs used to open a package of cigarettes. Wire twist ties. Plastic bread bag tabs. Cigarette butts. Broken glass. Beer bottles. Pop cans. Food wrappers. Infinitesimally small paper shreds. Pop pull tabs. Pieces of gum, which may or may not have been chewed by one of my siblings. Haven’t tried ABC gum? You’ve never been poor, I guess.
Anyhoo, only after we picked up every shred of garbage left behind by the previous 100 visitors, were we allowed to enjoy the now-pristine country.
We repeated the process at departure time. If we backpacked into an area where there wasn’t a designated firepit, we poured gallons of water on the ash, buried it, and spread pine needles and twigs over the area. Then we turned the rocks over and placed them back in the terrain.
We left every area looking like nobody had been there since creation.
With this amazing kind of upbringing, my siblings and I are always surprised when we see litter. Especially since our parents weren’t the only ones proclaiming this anti-pollution solution.
The 70’s and 80’s were innundated with Woody Owl’s “Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute” commercials and posters. Many other clever slogans have followed suit for decades.
Selfish people leave a mess and expect someone else to pick up after them and/or their dog. This is why the “Pack It In, Pack It Out” philosophy isn’t good enough. It only takes into account the responsible, not the selfish.
Even if the entire world stopped littering today, we’d still have a massive amount of clean-up to do.
Sadly, somewhere along life’s trail, I realized this scenario doesn’t apply only to garbage.
Daily people damage others by littering with words and deeds, whether from cruel intent or carelessness, the end result is the same.
Harmful words are tossed like empty beer cans, which never fully disintegrate, but sit on the wayside as a never-ending reminder. False accusations are flicked like a smoldering cigarette butt and can create a destroying inferno. People pile up putrid garbage as they lie, cheat, steal, abuse, ignore, and neglect. Their trail of torment rots beautiful hearts, bodies, and souls.
This pollution leaves a footprint of depression, anxiety, mistrust, and brokenness.
As we learned after decades of great marketing and advertising, education doesn’t always change behavior. Despite warnings, urgings, appeals, and eventually threats, these people litter on, fouling up friendships and families. There will always be those that litter.
Some will see an infraction and walk on by. Since they didn’t cause the pain they feel no obligation to stop the pain. They listen to gossip and don’t chastise the poisoner. They hear verbal abuse or harsh criticisms and don’t defend the victim. They ignore signs of abuse. Their silence allows the stench to fester and grow.
Just as my mom and dad honed in on stray bits of litter, they honed in on human strays. Bachelors needing a home-cooked meal, clean laundry, and torment by six kids were welcomed. Neighbor kids were welcomed by the droves with food mom kept on hand for after-school snacks. We kids were taught to see need and hurt.
Many people are dedicated to lovingly and willingly deal with the litter that has broken hearts and lives. Friends and relatives with open arms and listening ears. Professionals like counselors and ministers who have committed their careers to healing others. Authors and speakers share their experiences once they’ve found their way through the mire.
These people identify and toss the garbage, then wash, comfort, and heal the damaged people. Because they are human and they are kind, they feel a responsibility to humankind.
Yes, there are three kinds of people. But we all know dumping people into a simple classification isn’t entirely accurate.
Because we’ve all been each of these people.
- We’ve littered.
- We’ve walked by litter.
- We’ve picked up litter.
It’s never too late to clean up a mess we left behind or address a situation we walked by. We can learn to notice those quivering under the waste of harmful human interaction.
Pollution can be cleaned up one scrap and one soul at a time.
The goal of life is to leave a trail of beauty and positive impact, not destruction.
Don’t harm the environment humans live in; don’t harm the humans living in the environment.