Friday afternoon I took my two boys (a 2 year old and a 4 year old) to the grocery store to pick up some milk. I found a pretty good parking spot by the side of the building, but just as I started to pull in, I noticed there was one of those big grocery carts shaped like a car (for kids) in the parking space. The carts look like this:
I didn’t mind because it’s the kind of cart my boys like to use. But in order to get into the parking space, I had to park my car at an angle. Then I had to get out, push the cart out of the way (which was difficult since it was really heavy and I had to lift it up onto the sidewalk), get back in my car and re-park.
As I was about to put my kids into the cart, I noticed that the basket was littered with napkins and a few half-eaten ice cream cones. Fortunately, the ice cream hadn’t melted everywhere yet, but it was still a hassle to clean the whole thing up so that I could use the cart.
I wasn’t upset or anything, but it got me thinking about why the person who used the cart before me might have left it in such a mess. Were they perhaps under a lot of stress, therefore failing to notice their children had dropped the ice cream cones in the basket? Were they in such a hurry that they couldn’t spare the time it might have taken to put the cart in the grocery cart stall 5 feet away? Since those child-car grocery carts are in such high demand at this particular store, did they think that the next person would clean it up if they really wanted to the cart? Did they think that it was alright to leave the cart in that messy state because they figured a grocery store employee would eventually clean it up (and, after all, it’s their job to do it any way)? Either way, I can’t help feeling that it was an irresponsible action.
A while ago when I was teaching Gospel Principles lesson #27 – Work and Personal Responsibility in Relief Society, I engaged the class in a discussion about how to find transcendence in the mundane, repetitive task of doing housework. In the course of the discussion, I came to the realization that if you don’t clean something up yourself, somebody else will have to clean it up later. And it’s unfair to force that burden on someone else—especially when it’s a mess that you made yourself. That’s what I wish I could have communicated to the person who had the grocery cart before me.
That’s essentially how I feel about a lot of environmental issues—things like air pollution, species extinction, water waste, etc. It’s unethical for us to make someone else clean up our own messes. It’s unfair to say, “Oh, that’s someone else’s job to fix that” and refuse to do our part or ignore the problem. Even though these are big, complex problems that require a lot of work to solve, we still have a responsibility to work towards a solution as citizens of the world. Even when we did not directly cause the problem ourselves, we owe it to our children and to the future generations who will inherit these problems after we are gone. Because if we don’t clean it up, someone else will have to clean it up for us.
In his last address before his death in 1941, Robert Baden-Powell (who founded the Boy Scouts of America) said: “Leave the world a little better than you found it.” Although Baden-Powell was not a Mormon himself, his statement seems to capture something of the Mormon spirit to me. When Mormons see an opportunity to serve someone else, they take it. When they see a mess that needs to be cleaned up, they clean it. Mormons do a great job of taking responsibility for their actions because they intuitively understand that it’s unethical to make someone else clean up your own mess. They try to make the world better than when they found it. It’s my hope that Mormons can apply this same spirit to the environmental challenges that face our world today.