When I see hate speech or violence I – of course – have a visceral reaction of shock because I just can not relate to where that comes from. I can not understand how hateful words or violent actions come from a human because I have never been the kind of person who spouts hate speech or is violent. So that behavior is foreign to me. But you know what else causes a visceral shock reaction? WHEN I SEE PEOPLE LITTER.
Twice this week I’ve see people far below me from my office window drop trash in the parking lot below. DELIBERATELY. Not an accidental, “I have too much crap in my arms and some of it falls,” type of littering. But a, “I have unwrapped this thing and don’t want the trash in my car,” kind of littering. TWICE IN ONE WEEK. And both times I was just BLOWN AWAY. Like, “WAIT. Do people in this world actually litter?”
I mean. I know they do. I see the trash. But I typically assume it’s accidental because I’m naive and I have Faith that humans are inherently good and INHERENTLY GOOD PEOPLE DON’T LITTER.
But then I think back to my 16-year old days. And I remember littering.
I KNOW. I AM SO ASHAMED.
I can openly discuss my teen pregnancy and my younger years of disregard for monogamy and my past with drugs and as a smoker and yet…YET…I’m embarrassed and ashamed of when I used to litter.
I was a new driver and would use the family car to go to/from work. I had a crush on a guy that worked the drive-thru at Krystals. (I know. This story is already so classy.) I would go through his drive-thru before/after work some days to see if he was there but I had to get rid of the evidence because my car was the FAMILY car, my Dad drove it too. So – I would throw it out the window on the way home.
I KNOW. I HATE MYSELF TOO. FOR LITTERING AND FOR CRUSHING ON THE KRYSTALS DRIVE-THRU GUY.
I do remember feeling bad about it, but not as bad as Zoot of Today thinks I should have felt. I was 16 and living with a very small world view. I don’t think I really started understanding the impact of my actions in the world around me until after my first marriage when I learned the valuable lesson: If You Are A Shitty Person, You Will Have No Friends. (Incidentally, that’s also kinda when my social anxieties started because the memory of being very alone is so very vivid.) Eventually I started making friends again (In a building I eventually would name my son after) and approached life with a bigger scope. I was by no means perfect, I’m still not. But I’m certain I never littered after that.
The years 16-22 were also ripe with self-righteousness. Especially because I got pregnant at 18 and had the EASIEST CHILD ON THE PLANET so that gave me the right to judge all of the other parents around me. OH MY GOD I WAS SO JUDGMENTAL. My kid was perfect because of my parenting, OF COURSE. Not because he was just born easy. Nope. It was because I knew how to do it and no one else did. Also? Pop music is terrible. Also? I HAD A BUMPER STICKER THAT SAID “KILL YOUR TELEVISION.” I was a terrible human. TERRIBLE.
I’m not trying to make excuses for the assholes of the world. They should really stop being assholes. But, I will say this: I was very much an asshole until it caught up with me. I’m not 100% certain I wouldn’t still be one if I had not been forced to reckon with my mistakes and the loneliness that followed early on in my life. I’m proud, VERY proud, of who I am today because I have grown and learned so much. So while I really can’t understand why people litter, I do remember a time before I learned how negative actions – no matter how small – can have a ripple effect and spread through the world around me.
So, while I want to hate the person trashing the planet because they’re too lazy to turn around and walk back the 15 feet to the garbage can by the door to the building, I try to remember 16-year old Zoot hiding flirting evidence from her Dad. I’m mad at parents shaming other parents for tragic accidents, but I remember used to be a self-righteous asshole who thought I had it all figured out as a Mom at 19. I’m disgusted by terrible political discourse I’ve seen by people who seem to have no idea how to remain civil but then I remember I ruthlessly mocked those different from me, while smoking and hacky-sacking because OH MY GOD I WAS SUCH AN ASSHOLE.
I’m trying to find ways to not separate those behaviors into a category of “The Other” because then I no longer try to connect with people who make decisions to litter or shame or speak hate. Instead? I remember that I once said and did terrible things and if I want to help people change, I can’t do it by being judgmental or self-righteous or forgetting about my own asshole past.
BUT DAMMIT, JEEZ, WE ALL KNOW LITTERING IS WRONG. STOP DOING IT ALREADY. UGG.