Is Irresponsibility Quietly Replacing Common Sense?

When I was at the grocery store yesterday, a clerk stopped me. He stood next to a shopping cart with liquid pouring from a paper bag inside the basket. There was a trail of liquid from the store’s front door to the cart in the produce section. I was standing nearby, so he asked if the cart was mine. I said it wasn’t mine as he bent down to look inside the leaking bag. “It’s a Coke from McDonalds,” he said. With hands on his hips, he said, “Look at this mess. Why do people do this stuff?”

While I was walking through the store, I found a package of meat abandoned on a shelf in the chips section. There was a box of dog food in the wine department. When I went outside, there was a pair of rubber gloves on the ground next to my truck. I looked around and saw a gust of wind blow a face mask across the parking lot.

People no longer give up their seats for the elderly or pregnant women. Drivers won’t change lanes or slow down to let another car enter traffic safely. People crank up the music in their car, blasting every car around them with the monotonous thumping of the overdriven bass. People text while driving. Shoppers don’t put their shopping carts away and throw trash on the ground. And bathroom guests don’t flush the toilet in public restrooms.

Little by little, irresponsibility is getting worse every day.

Why do people make messes they don’t clean up? Why do they feel it’s necessary to act rudely and be inconsiderate of others? Is it because people are feeling powerless? But how does throwing a bag of trash on the ground make someone feel powerful? That would imply they are thinking deeply about what they’re doing. Throwing trash on the ground doesn’t require much thought, so it’s not the result of deep thinking. It’s an impulse action.

For example, maybe a couple just finished eating dinner in their car and wanted to get rid of the trash. If there isn’t a garbage can nearby, they have to throw the litter somewhere or it will make their car smell. So they dump the bag of garbage on the ground and drive away.

People know someone will pick up their garbage and throw it away. Having someone clean up after us isn’t anything new. It starts when we are children. We make a mess and mom picks up after us. As we get older, our parents try to shift some responsibility for cleaning up our messes off of them and back onto us, causing a power struggle.

When my two girls were young, they had to clean their room every Friday night. I wanted their rooms tidy for the weekend. Sometimes it would take hours for them to do 15 minutes’ worth of work. I would sit on one bed and watch them cry and scream while wondering if they’d lost their minds. They made the mess, but they didn’t feel responsible for cleaning it up. After a couple of weeks, the girls realized neither their mom nor I would clean their rooms. And it was clear they weren’t going anywhere, and no friends were coming over until their rooms were clean. They shed some tears, fussed, threw their dirty clothes in their hampers, but they did the work.

Without supervision, my daughters would not clean their rooms. They needed an adult to force them to act responsibly. But that’s normal for kids. I didn’t expect less. But what’s going on with adults?

I volunteer at a state park for 4 hours a day. Part of my duties is to make sure the trash cans get emptied and I pick any loose trash up. Every day, I find empty beer and soda cans, cigarette butts, food wrappers, and candy bar wrappers thrown on the ground.

Sometimes, I’ll find garbage left next to one of the garbage cans. I’m sure it’s because someone, probably a young guy, tried to “shoot a basket” by lobbing a bag of trash at the garbage can, and he missed. Instead of picking up the trash, he left it laying on the ground. It wasn’t a problem for him. He knew someone with the park would pick it up.

Common sense makes people feel responsible for what they do or don’t do. A chair won’t push someone out of it so a pregnant woman can sit down. A car won’t automatically slow down to allow another car to enter traffic on the highway. Garbage won’t pick itself up and dump itself into a garbage can.

When a person shows common sense, a seated passenger will stand to let an elderly person who isn’t as strong have his seat. A driver will give a merging driver some extra space so everyone stays safe. When a garbage can shooter misses his shot, he’ll take a minute to pick up his trash and throw it away.

Taking responsibility isn’t about doing the right thing. It’s just common sense.

What do you think? Is irresponsibility quietly replacing common sense?

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