The Power of Picking Up Trash

I despise litter.

It drives me a little nuts, albeit in a good way.

Wherever and whenever I see trash out of its place, I admit to getting a little obsessed about doing my bit to clean up the planet. I'm sure my "litter fetish" probably annoys my wife and kids at times; but to their credit, they put up with my passion without complaining. My kids have even started to spot and retrieve litter all on their own!

"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."

In my new TEXTBOOKS on Self-Action Leadership, I included the following mantra: "Pick up at least ONE piece of trash every single day that I did not throw down."

Why is this mantra important to me?

Simple...

Because others have helped to clean up my messes at times throughout my life.  Now it's payback time. 

But in a larger sense, this practice is important to me because focusing on little things empowers me to not only make progress on bigger things, but can simultaneously prevent larger issues from becoming a problem in the first place.  Moreover, this mantra is as much a principle as it is a practice—and this particular principle positively influences a variety of different areas of my personal and professional life.

In other words, it's not just about the trash.

Case in point: Consider the example of New York City in the 1990s under the leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In an effort to combat serious crime issues that had plagued the city throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Giuliani decided to address the issue in an unusual way. His approach was simple: "Always sweat the small stuff." This policy entailed focusing on cleaning up trash and graffiti in the subways and clamping down on turnstile jumpers.

Why in the world would you focus on such minor offenses if you were dealing with an epidemic of violent crimes such as rape, murder, and armed robbery?

Answer: because BIG THINGS almost always start out as little things. Counterintuitive as Giuliani's approach may have seemed, it worked! As the NYPD began "sweating the small stuff," the incidence of far more egregious crimes began to fall precipitously. One murderer was even caught, not due to clever detective work, but because he had been apprehended for jumping a subway turnstile!

While that may sound like a mere stroke of good luck on the part of the Police, the reality remains that murderers get their start to crime somewhere, and the slippery slide into the dark side usually doesn't begin with a felony.

At Freedom Focused, we also believe in "Always Sweating the Small Stuff." It's not just a matter of keeping our people out of jail and avoiding bad press. It's a matter of making sure the small stuff matters. For example, in our organization, the Truth matters, details matter, polish and refinement matters, punctuality and precision matter, personal appearance and grooming matter, education matters, and professionalism and integrity are absolutely indispensable traits of all of our agents. And agents who would rather not sweat the small stuff are welcome to go work for someone else who is more comfortable with lower standards of personal conduct and moral character.

In encouraging you to "Always Sweat the Small Stuff," I am not asking you to become a prude or a perfectionist—although there are times when perfectionism is quite useful (e.g. when editing a piece of polished prose).  I know all too well from my own experiences that even true principles and right practices can be taken to unhealthy extremes.  I am merely encouraging you to continually fine-tune and strive to get better every day; and the best way to get better every day is to focus on troubleshooting and refining the "Small Stuff" with a recognition that little things matter

When we sweat the small stuff, the minutia of our lives and careers becomes our primary learning and training ground, thereby keeping us out of real trouble. Knowing this, and being a natural believer and man of deep faith, one of my most common queries to the Almighty is as follows: "Lord, please help me to learn from small mistakes and petty sins so that I might avoid colossal stumbles and craven debauchery."

Small Stuff Matters.

And what really matters is actually doing the stuff; talking about it is meaningless unless it impels us to take action.

No matter how eloquently a writer or orator may frame language, the most masterful sermons are always delivered through the medium of action. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: "Big Talkers; Little Doers"; "He who speaks much is much mistaken"; and, "The ant speaks most eloquently of all; and he says nothing." 

Or as Theodore Roosevelt put it:

"It is a sign of marked ... weakness ... if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are to stand. The phrase-maker, the phrase-monger, the ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element ... and it speaks ill for the public if he has influence over them. To admire the gift of oratory without regard to the moral quality behind the gift is to do wrong..."

What, then, is far more meaningful than this blog post about picking up trash? 

Answer: Actually picking up trash. This is why I strive to pick up one piece of trash a day—at the very least.

One solitary person picking up a single piece of trash per day may seem utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But what if every person on the planet adopted my mantra? There are currently trillions of pieces of litter strewn about Planet Earth; but that number would shrink considerably—and relatively quickly—if you subtracted 7.6 billion pieces of trash from the pile every single day.

Moreover, consider the collateral benefits of my mantra. Today it led me to don plastic gloves and carry a 13-gallon plastic garbage bag with me during my afternoon walk to the lake where I planned to swim (I am a triathlete and today was my day in the water). I was able to fill the entire bag after walking a mere mile. Along the way, several dozen cars and trucks passed by—undoubtedly noticing what I was doing. Putting myself in their shoes, I'm pretty certain what kind of thoughts passed through their minds as they observed my free-will and voluntary contributions to their community. One lady who passed me walking by even shouted out a sincere "Thank You" in my direction.

In addition, the seeds of this article begin to germinate in my mind and heart while I was filling that bag with trash. As a result, I am now sharing the message with YOU. 

Are you BORED out of your mind during this COVID-19 crisis? Now you have a simple way to get off of your couch and do something productive, worthwhile, and simple that will make you feel good and contribute something meaningful to your community in the process. And if there is as much litter where you live as where I live, you and your family and friends are going to have plenty to do for a while!

Three quarters of a century ago, my maternal grandfather counseled a group of young university students shortly following the end of World War II, as follows:

"Young [people], do not think your lives are unimportant. Do not think for a moment that you can exert no influence because you are young or because you are few. We have got to get away from the foolish notion that quantity is the important thing in influence. You know you can go into the laboratories on this campus and you will find that very minute amounts of particular substances can exert tremendous influences. ... One individual courageously choosing his own conduct in the face of all odds, doing right, can exert a tremendous influence. ... Let us choose so that every event that comes into our lives will be enriching so that we will be bigger than any event, come whatever calamity may. We can so choose that it will not destroy us. ... We can have freedom each in his own sphere. Each can contribute importantly to ... freedom."

So there you have it. You don't have to be President of the United States or the Director of the CDC to make a positive difference during the Present Crisis—or at any other time. You can choose to take simple actions that will make the world a better place and positively influence others to do the same.

Speaking of which, guess what one of my own motivations was for filling an entire garbage bag with trash today? A few weeks ago, I saw someone else doing the same thing in a local park. I was inspired and impressed by the man's example. I made sure to thank him, and the seed was thereby planted into my own mind and heart—a seed that has since grown up into a full bag of trash, properly placed in its steel receptacle instead of being carelessly strewn all over the sides of the roadway.

-Dr. Jordan Jensen
Carlsbad, New Mexico
May 14, 2020


For more information about Dr. Jordan Jensen, click HERE

For more information about Freedom Focused, click HERE

To buy Dr. Jordan Jensen's new Life Leadership Textbooks, click HERE 

4 comments:

  1. Loved reading this Jordan, I always remember seeing you do that and seeing Tucker do it too! I picked up a piece of trash yesterday that was actually a giant trash bag being carried away by the wind and thought of you guys as I did it! I want to carry your legacy on here.

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    1. Very cool, Amelia. Nice work! Thanks for the comment.

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  2. This is filled with good information, especially liked the comment for young people.

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