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People need to take responsibility for their actions


Fri, Oct 3rd, 2008
Posted in Commentary

On my walk to the Post Office and back each day, I glance at the sidewalks, gutters, window sills, and planters along those three blocks. I pick up and discard cans, bottles, cigarette packs, and candy wrappers. Yesterday, I picked up three cans within a half block. Although they litter the sidewalks, I draw the line at cigarette butts. The difficult part is trying to understand why these things are thrown away like that.

Our town provides trash containers hanging on the light poles every block, or maybe even half-block. Why don't some people walk an extra three or four steps off a straight line and deposit their trash in those handy bins? And the streets and yards along the route for the Steam Engine Days Parade were littered with all kinds of waste. It seems to show disrespect for our town, and the people who live in it and look at it.

Our citizens make a real effort to maintain their lawns and yards, and keep their homes well-cared for, but it's hard to notice if there is garbage tossed about.

Have any of you worked with a group who have "adopted" a piece of highway? If so, you know how much waste is discarded along the roads. Some groups have stopped picking up because of the dangerous kinds of wastes to be found: discarded hypodermic needles, used condoms, bottles of urine, and soiled disposable diapers, to name a few. This is in addition to sacks of garbage, worn-out tires, cans and bottles, pizza boxes. Our lovely public parks are often likewise bedecked.

I mentioned lack of respect for our towns. It goes much deeper and farther than that, I think. Many do not grow up having respect for people in general, or for private or public property. At the core of that lack is something even more basic, no respect for ourselves as persons of value and purpose, and therefore, for other people. This triggers not only the littering and vandalism which happens only too frequently, but leads also to the casual violence apparent in many people's actions - to bullying, and to attacks using the internet to destroy people's reputations and self-esteem. There are many ways of trashing people and things.

What to do? How to improve these conditions and responses? There are no simple or quick answers, I'm afraid. Parents, neighbors, and communities need to take time and make efforts to help children grow up with healthy attitudes. When I taught high school, (and it needs to start in infancy) I used to say if we could only teach one thing: I would choose for it to be "taking responsibility for one's own actions." Too large a segment of people respond to any problem by blaming it on someone else. Churches need to take their part in helping to develop that sense of right and wrong, a sensitive conscience.

No one entity can do it all.

What I'd like to see happen, for a start, is just to get everybody to think and be aware of all of these things, and resolve to attempt to improve themselves, those whom they train, those whose actions they can see and try to change. If we could each take just a bit more time, and some responsibility, perhaps we can make a difference, and there will be not only fewer littered towns, but fewer trashed lives, and an improved society in which all can live in greater happiness and peace.

Jeanne Martin lives in Mabel.

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