Just keep doing it until you’re happy

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So the little man has an annoying habit. We’ll be walking down the street, or across a parking lot, or wherever, and he’ll stop to pick up some random bit of interesting-looking trash. Now this is an 8-year-old we’re talking about here, not some toddler. But if you have, or have had any contact whatsoever with, a male child, then you know that discussions regarding germs, bacteria, or hand-washing are completely useless. It all started a couple of years back when his Cub Scout den talked about the “leave no trace” ethic. Well kudos to Den Leader Matt, the lesson stuck. Now look, I’m all for picking up after oneself, especially when traipsing through the wilderness, the psuedo-wilderness of the scout camp, or even the local park. But there have to be limits, or you’ll spend all day getting from here to there, and you’ll arrive with a full hefty bag. Take yesterday for example: The boy just picked out a sweet pair of Adidas b-ball shoes, complete with the skull laces. Can he really be a men’s 5 already? We’re walking out to our car, and he grabs somebody’s index card shopping list off of the ground. I patiently explain for the umpteenth time that picking up the paper has now changed its status. Before, it was somebody else’s shirked responsibility. But now that he’s picked it up, it’s his. Even though it was already litter, now that he’s taken possession, it’s his litter. He responds that he’s just trying to leave no trace. So as we pull out of our spot, I point to other pieces of wind-blown trash that have made their way to the edges of the parking lot, and I make what seems to me a well-reasoned argument. Why stop with just that one piece? Maybe he should grab one more, and then one more, ad infinitum. Of course I didn’t use the term “ad infinitum”, because then I’d have to make an aside to explain what it means, and that would ruin my parental speechifying flow. And for the briefest of moments, I noticed that I sounded like a father in a Twisted Sister video or something. Like one of those “You don’t understand how the world works young man. Just wait until you have a job, and responsibilities, and people counting on you, and …” dads. Blecch. But truly, that vision lasted just a millisecond, and it didn’t derail me from wrapping up my argument. If the goal is to remove all litter, then he could almost make a lifetime endeavor out of it, just in this one multi-big-box parking lot. And that’s what I told him. So then I close with my clincher: “How would you know when to stop picking up litter? You’d never really be done.” To which he responds simply, “I’d just keep doing it until it made me happy. Then I’d stop.” Huh.


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