Lost & Found – Time to Take Responsibility

Hard to have faith in people sometimes.

Back in grade twelve when I was pumping gas at the Esso station, we used to have a big sign at the back of the toilet, printed on cardboard in red block-capitals outlined in black: Do Not Flush Paper Towels. Every day one of us workers had to unplug the toilet, which would be jammed with paper towels. Other times, I thought we should have been more specific and had a larger sign saying: Do Not Flush Paper Towels, Diapers, Bottle Liners, Sanitary Napkins, Boot Innersoles, Sandwich Bags, Paper Coffee Cups, Chocolate Bar Wrappers, or Used Car Parts.

People were always driving into each other, poking each other in the eye, walking into walls, knocking over display stands, backing over the vacuum cleaner, driving off with the pump still in their gas tanks. It was like a cinema verite version of a Keystone Cops film. It’s amazing we never had a maiming, explosion or fire during the time that I worked there.

With the arrogance of youth, I used to look on these human foibles with a sort of sneering contempt. Conveniently forgetting the endless string of thoughtless, awkward, deluded, reckless and just plain goofy behaviour I displayed on a daily basis, I chose to see the faults of others as proof of my own superiority. If I failed a math exam, cheated on my girlfriend and set fire to the couch by falling asleep with a lit cigarette in my mouth–in the space of one particularly bad week–there were extenuating circumstances, and somehow someone else was to blame.

I think that there are two basic and disturbing messages here about humanity. The first is, human beings are not necessarily the sharpest pencil crayons in the cosmic Crayola box. We have a tendency to cause a lot of pain and worry to those around us, a lot of clumsy and ill-considered damage. The second important point about us is, when it comes to taking responsibility for our own goofiness, our own actions and circumstances, we choose not to be honest with ourselves.

I know from personal experience how easy it is to blame personal unhappiness and misfortune on forces and circumstances beyond my control. I would have passed that test, gotten that job, tried harder, behaved with more maturity, treated that person more kindly, etc., etc., if only (fill in the blank).

As dangerous and damaging as this universal tendency is on an individual level, it’s far worse when it’s played out on a global political / economic level. Think of the refusal of the U.S. to accept responsibility for the moral quagmire they’ve gotten themselves stuck in in the Middle East by virtue of a half-century of manipulative, exploitative foreign policy. Consider that, despite dire warnings of fast-approaching environmental devastation, automobile manufacturers are producing what can only be called lethally effective global-warming devices on wheels, and we’re buying them like (as will probably be the case) there’s no tomorrow.

Even the lowliest rodent has more sense than to consciously crawl into a small dark space and suffocate in its own excrement. We, on the other hand, think that all our problems will disappear if we just keep on flushing.

It’s time to reconsider and to take responsibility for our own actions.