Editor’s Column: Personal responsibility includes being considerate

Listen to this post

My grandkids are at that age where they understand there are rules for cohabiting the same space, and they get very angry when one of their siblings is not complying with those rules.

Every parent has heard the tattlers… “Susie ate two cookies. You said we can only have one cookie. Susie broke the rules.”

The real argument from the tattletale’s perspective isn’t that Susie ate two cookies and therefore broke the rules, it’s that the tattler also wants to eat two cookies.   

I’d like to think we outgrow that behavior, but we don’t seem to.

Let’s use property rights as an example.

Person A wants the right to put up a shed without paying permitting fees and going through the inspection process. They campaign against regulations and win the right to build a ramshackle shed (or an amazing she-shed) on their property. Freedom reigns!

And then their new next door neighbor puts up a similar shed, only instead of housing a lawnmower and garden tools, this shed houses half a dozen stinky cannabis plants.

Person A is morally offended by cannabis use (besides the fact the plants smell like a cross between raw garlic and a surprised skunk). Suddenly, the freedom to put up a shed is having a negative impact on Person A’s perceived quality of life, and he or she will likely (often without bothering to talk to the neighbor in a civil fashion) show up at a public meeting demanding new and improved regulations about what can and can’t be done with a shed. “Susie’s shed is bothering me.”

We could probably, in a very simplistic fashion, trace every controversial ballot measure and legislation to its natural roots by following this cycle.

On the one hand we have personal freedom and responsibility—cherished American values for more than 200 years. On the other hand we have the idea that our elected officials are getting paid to represent us and should take action on our behalf for our quality of life.

Some law or regulation that seems restrictive or invasive or overreaching probably got passed because someone, or a segment of someones, failed to consider the impact of their actions on those around them, and that prompted someone to say, “there ought to be a law…”

Litter laws are a good example. It’s common sense—in my opinion—that trash goes in a trash can, not out the car window, not on the side of the road, not left behind in the forest.  Based on last weekend’s river cleanup day, not everyone shares that opinion.

All in all, half a dozen volunteers gathered about a cubic yard of trash from a relatively small area in just a few hours. 

Clambering through the bushes and grass on a 100-yard stretch side of the road that goes past the cemetery, volunteers collected at least a case of Bud Lite cans of varying ages. Enough to make one think someone’s got a bad habit going.

At some point in the 1970s people started noticing that our parks and forests and roadways were being overrun with litter. As a result, because people (and toddlers) tend to resist change unless there are consequences involved, litter laws were written and approved, and flinging crap out your car window or dropping it on a trail or leaving a trashy campsite became criminal offenses. Woodsy Owl admonished my generation to “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!”

I think Woodsy needs to come back for an extended visit. And the next time you go for a walk or a hike or a trail ride, take a trash bag along and do a little cleanup. You may be surprised by what you find.

Niki Turner

By Niki Turner