Find Each Campsite Dirtier Than You Will Leave It
By William Bezanson
This is a lesson that was taught to me when I was in Cubs and Scouts. I have also tried to teach it to my own cubs when I was a Cub and Scout leader, and to my own children.
Of course, this maxim is usually stated in a more positive sense, as in “Leave each campsite cleaner than you found it.” But I like the reverse statement, as in the title here, in order to catch people’s attention, to make it have a deeper impact, and to have fun.
It’s amazing how many people don’t follow this lesson! Not just for campsites, but also for public washrooms, restaurant tables, sidewalks and walking trails, and many other locations that people visit or use occasionally. Where did people learn such behaviour?
My guess is that the compartmentalization of modern society has given us a subtle lesson in how to interact with the world. Nearly everything is a specialty. It’s not my job to clean up after myself; they pay cleaners to do that. I don’t need to worry about tossing some garbage on the ground; it provides employment for someone who needs the work. Why should I take the time to clean out the sink after I use it, or my copious splashings of water on the counter? That’s someone else’s job.
We also don’t want to appear like nerds or geeks, cleaning up after ourselves. It’s just not cool. Our role models teach us otherwise. After all, you don’t see movie stars tossing garbage into a garbage can. They just shoot up the store, or crash through the baricades, or trash the property, and drive on as if nothing had happened. And people cheer. Or you don’t see sports heros stopping to pick up a soft drink can and put it into a recycle bin. They just endorse the big car companies. And people cheer. Or you don’t see rock stars urging the crowds not to drop their candy wrappers on the ground. They just make loud noise and leave a mess. And people cheer.
It is very, very difficult bucking the trend. Nobody important encourages us to be ourselves. Yes, the parents and teachers and valdictorians do so, but they’re not important. We all know who is important.
But at some point we start to see the bigger picture, and we want to rise above the crowd. We feel the subtle voice to take care of the world. For some it occurs early; for some, later.
Try it. Try finding each place you visit a bit dirtier than it is when you leave it. Try it for a week, or a month. See if you feel better. See if it opens your eyes to other ways you might be able to contribute. See if you become aware of things differently.
And you can have fun with mixing around the words in this maxim also. By reversing the order of things, as I have done in the title of this article, your consciousness may be raised to the point that you may catch yourself just in time before you throw away a candy wrapper. Try wording it in other ways, such as, “Turn dirty into clean!”, “Transform campsites from dirty to clean!”, or “Campsites are cleaner after I use them!”
When you think about it, the biggest campsite that you will use is the whole world. Is the world cleaner after you have used it? What is the ultimate footprint left after you have departed from this world? What impact have you had? If you could reduce your whole life down to just one parameter, such as cleanliness, or goodness, or positiveness, then what would be the value of that parameter after you have finished your time in the world? Would it be cleaner, or better, or more positive?
When the cleanup crew comes to sweep up after you have used your world campsite, will they be pleased that you have found it dirtier than you left it?
And don’t forget, as I have written earlier in this column, the real reason that we should take care of the world is not only to leave it in good shape for our children and grandchildren (although that is a valid reason), but because we will be back in our next incarnations, and we will want the world to be in better shape than we have found it. We have only ourselves to blame if we left our world campsite dirtier than we had found it.
Also, I use the term World to denote both Earth plus Spirit. The world consists of not only all the physical things that are perceptible around us, but also all the spiritual things that may be less obvious. So, our responsibility is not only to sweep up the dust and garbage, but also to think good thoughts, to heal those who need our help, to be positive channels for creative good, and to do other such non-physical, spiritual actions that will improve life for others now and for us on our return.
Our Campsite consists of not only the Earthly sticks and stones, but also the Spiritual thoughts and feelings.
My guess is that taking this small step of finding each campsite dirtier than you leave it will change your whole future.
William Bezanson is a retired engineer who writes on systems design and on world stewardship. He writes a regular column for OMTimes. His latest book is I Believe: A Rosicrucian Looks at Christianity and Spirituality. He lives with his wife in Ottawa, Canada. His website is www3.sympatico.ca/bezanson1 .