Ask successful people in our community to what they attribute their success and most will say, “If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”
Communities and businesses are constantly looking for ways to look more attractive and inviting.
As I make my way around our neighborhood on my weekly jogs, I often see a couple out walking and picking up trash. Cool. It’s just a little thing, but they do anyway.
Visit businesses around town and it’s evident which ones are paying attention to the little things. They don’t have to, but they know it’s a reflection of their values and what they think of their customers.
One of the things I do as a classroom teacher is employ my students each hour of the school day to help me keep the classroom tidy and the floor picked up.
Every year I hear the same response from more than a few of the students: “that’s the janitor’s job,” or “that’s not my job,” or “it’s just a piece of paper.”
I explain that it’s not the janitor’s job to pick up after them, and making sure they leave a room in as good or better condition than when they entered is a reflection of their values. To throw things on the floor and leave paper and books strewn about is sending a powerful message about how they think of others and what they think of themselves.
Inevitably, we get into a little “discuss-ament” which is how an author friend of mine describes most conversations with teenagers: “I have a discussion — they have an argument.” I ask them some simple yet revealing questions: Who does your laundry? Who cleans your room? What does the inside of your vehicle look like? How do you treat your friend’s home when you are visiting?
The answers to these questions reveal the kind of attitude that can make or break someone in the game of life.
Students who tell me someone else does their laundry or cleans their room can’t imagine that picking up paper off the floor of the classroom is their responsibility or can make any difference at all in the grand scheme of life.
But I tell them “you couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Think about what you’re saying,” I respond with a smile. “What you’re saying is that it is someone else’s responsibility to clean up your messes. I see some of these same students who are now adults, and if they haven’t learned, someone else is still cleaning up their messes.
“Unfortunately, for our entire community, their messes involve other people or children and it’s no longer the janitor’s job but the police or social services.”
Many students just laugh and say, “It’s just a piece of paper, Coach. How can you make us think that all that stuff is going to happen if we don’t clean up our mess?”
I respond: “You’re right — it’s just a little thing.”
Lance Scranton is a Moffat County High School teacher and coach. He writes a weekly column for the Craig Daily Press and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.