Monday, January 28, 2019

Better that you found it

My fourth-grade teacher at Dora Elementary School taught me some things that had nothing to do with reading, writing, or arithmetic. Even though I was only 10 years old, I realized Mr. Hocutt was wise. The things he said resonated with me. One of his “sayings” became one of my mantras. 

One day after playing on the playground, he asked us to look around and pick up any litter we saw. As we hustled around picking up scraps of theme paper and old Dixie cups, he said, “We should always leave a place better than we found it.” 

Through the years, I’ve tried to do that wherever I go. 

I thought about Mr. Hocutt this past Tuesday when I was on my way home from a meeting at the Mountain Eagle office.  When I glanced down at my instrument panel, the needle on my gas gage was lounging on the E. I stopped at the next gas station and pulled up to the pump. Clicking the gearshift into park, I stepped out to gas-up my truck. 

My mind was adrift as I stood there in the afternoon sun. When I glanced down at my feet, I saw that someone had thrown two beer cans down in front of the pump. The trash container was less than three feet away, but that distance must have been too great. I could almost see the litterbug kicking the beer cans from under his feet. The driver was either drunk or lazy. I’m pretty sure Mr. Hocutt would have frowned on this.

While I waited for my nozzle to click off, I picked up the two cans along with a few other pieces of trash and tossed them into the can.  

A few weeks ago, my wife Jilda and I decided to get our exercise in early.  As she bundled up for the walk, I rolled our garbage can down to the road for pickup later that morning. 

Our laps took us down through the garden, around the barn, and up the old driveway to the main road in front of our house. By the time we’d walked our first lap, I noticed something on the ground next to the garbage can. When I looked more closely, I realized that one of our neighbors had tossed a dirty baby diaper out. I’m guessing they were trying to be thoughtful by tossing it so close to the garbage can.

I love babies, but their diapers can be disgusting. Looking around, I found a long stick and fished the diaper off the ground and dropped it into the garbage can. The rest of our walk was hard for me to enjoy because I was stewing – trying to figure out what low-life tossed the diaper and thinking of creative ways I could teach them a lesson.

Here’s the thing. We all live in a garden. Leaving a place better than you found it is not rocket surgery. It can be something as simple as returning your buggy to the bin and grabbing a buggy that someone left the middle of the parking lot. Or it could be a smile or kind word when someone is having a hard day. 

It doesn’t take much to leave a place better than you found it.


  1. I wonder if Mr. Hocutt had been a Boy Scout. That's one of their rules..always leave a place better than you found it. Such a good rule. My kids would get a lecture (and worse) if I ever caught them throwing trash outside the car. When I mow I can't believe how many beer cans and bottles I find under the pine trees by the road. Makes me so mad!

  2. Those small steps are hugely important.

  3. You are so right I wish I could have seen the person who dumped their diaper off like that....rude! It reminds me of the time my mom told me she did when she was in the mall. She sat down since her hips were in pain and she noticed these teens laughing, tearing up paper and throwing it all ove4 the floor. She got up, all 5ft of her and with her cane told the kids to stop. She to,d them that was the wrong thing to do and to pick up the paper. They mentioned time and she claimed she had all the time in the world and then told them to pick up the papers. She said they moped but they picked each paper up slowly. She would follow and tell them they missed one and then she followed them to the wastebasket and watched them dumpmthe paper in. She looked at them and said, “ now look, if you would have done tha5 in the first place you would not have wasted so much time. You should always leave the place better than you’ve seen it, not worse.” When the kids left, the lady at the kiosk was amazed and congratulated my mom and was shocked that they didn’t mouth off. My mom said they wouldn’t dare. I know my mom and I knew that voice and she’s right, they wouldn’t dare.

  4. I'm guessing that diaper was stinking up the car to much for the person to stand...not a fair excuse but almost understandable.

    I shudder when I think of the unacceptable littering I may have been guilty of many years ago.

  5. How so ignorant to dump a dirty diaper like that...
    I have a mantra that say to always leave a room in a better state than when you enter.
    It's my email signature on my emails.

    Hugs, Julia

  6. Anonymous5:06 PM

    My kids & my husband used to make fun of me; I'd never let them drop even one piece of paper out of the car!!

  7. Cloth diapers, tghere is a lot to say about them. LOL
    Yes, I see more folks now pick up litter than in my earlier life. I know I do. Actually when I see 'obvious' litter, at times I am surprised. But this is a good 'thinking post.' We need 'em every once in awhile.Mr. Hocutt would approve this ad! ;-)


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