A few days ago, my husband Kevin and I took an evening walk through our neighborhood and I stopped to pick up a discarded plastic water bottle along the way. I paused to pour out the water still inside it, and then we walked on. Moments later, a car driving by stopped beside us and the driver reached out of the window. The stranger said, “Here, I’ll take that. I have a trash bag here in my car.” I handed him the bottle and said, “Thanks!” He replied, “Thanks for picking up trash.” Thus began a small but significant spiral of goodness.
I’ve been thinking about picking up trash since reading the book “Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle. The president’s cabinet here at the college has made this our summer read. Coyle has researched a number of thriving organizational cultures, and his book distills the “secrets of highly successful groups” into several themes. The first of these is “Build Safety,” which happens through many small behaviors that create belonging.
In the front of the book, these words appear on an otherwise blank page:
“CULTURE: from the Latin cultus, which means care.”
One of Coyle’s ideas for building safety and belonging comes under the heading of “picking up trash.” He writes:
“This is what I would call a muscular humility — a mindset of seeking simple ways to serve the group. . . . These actions are powerful not just because they are moral or generous but also because they send a larger signal: We are all in this together.”
One of the beloved neighbors of Goshen College has decided to care for the curving walkway that links the Newcomer Center parking lot to the Goshen Health parking lots farther south, winding through restored prairie, bee hives and wetlands. When he began picking up trash, the wetland harbored a great deal of waterlogged trash amidst the cattails. Now it is pretty much clear. He walks it regularly with a stick and trash bag in hand and keeps it that way.
Thanks to all of you who pick up trash. We’re all in this together.Rebecca Stoltzfus