Where Do You Draw the Line?

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice

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Okay, I've got a confession. I  pick up discarded paper towels off the floor in public restrooms. I know it's not my responsibility. I get that. I even have friends tell me I am jeopardizing someone else's livelihood when I do it. But I can't always help myself. I see a balled up paper towel and, before I realize it, I get some notion that we all share accountability for our public spaces. The next thing I know, I find myself drying my hands and using my paper towel to pick up another one inadvertently dropped on the floor by someone else.

This behavior got worse after I read Malcolm Gladwell's book Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Gladwell talks about how one small thing can snowball and ultimately result in huge impact. One of his examples is that of broken windows in an urban neighborhood. If a broken window goes unaddressed, other broken windows quickly follow. Soon, the neighborhood begins to deteriorate. The broken window makes it clear to everyone that no one cares, or why would the broken window go unrepaired? So pretty soon, other windows get broken, crime increases, the people who can move out do so, and the neighborhood goes downhill. In contrast, fix the window and you stop the downward slide. Small things make a big difference.

So, I sometimes pick up a paper towel, knowing that if I don't another will soon join it. As that happens, the quality of life for anyone using the restroom gets ever so slightly worse. Our shared human experience deteriorates. Again, I realize there are bigger things to worry about in the world. And yet, this is one I can address so easily, in such a short amount of time, and at so little energy cost to me. In taking action, I make a small positive difference in the experience of another person, perhaps a lot of people, who I may never meet.

Now you know my secret. You may see me pick up a paper towel sometime and you'll know why. You might even find yourself picking up a piece of litter that you didn't toss in the first place. Who knows? We might be starting a movement. After all, it's easier to change the world than we realize.

Reflection: Where are you ignoring a situation because it's "not your job" to take care of it? What if you took action instead?

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?

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