If you listened to the most recent episode of the Nurah Speaks podcast, you heard me talk about the frustration I experienced observing someone littering on the MLK Day of Service in my local community. As great as it felt lending my time and serving the community, it was equally disappointing seeing this behavior, in particular by individuals who belong to the community - and especially since this is not an uncommon observation.
But it is not just residents who use our streets as trash receptacles. Camden, like many urban areas has long been the dumping grounds for its neighboring communities who export their trash into our communities. It is unfortunately not unusual to find piles of used tires, furniture or appliances dumped off of highway exit ramps by businesses who refuse to properly dispose of their waste. When the annual country and western concert comes to the waterfront amphitheater, the trash left behind by out of town concert goers is atrocious and ridiculous. But not only do outsiders dump their inorganic waste in Camden; they also bring the rejected living refuse from their own communities, sometimes by the van loads. These are often addicts, repeat criminal offenders or nuisance homeless who are dropped off with a stern warning, “Don’t come back!”
As unfair and outrageous as all this is, what outrages me much more more is our own indiscriminate disregard within our own community.
We have neighborhoods wherein residents will not pick up the trash just outside their front doors, sweep their own sidewalks or pick up their pet’s waste. It occurs to me that there there must be a serious disconnect for one to arbitrarily drop or ignore trash on the sidewalk or toss it out of the car window in his own community.
It is apparent to any observer that our communities are neglected and mistreated by many of us who interact within it. Personal accountability should compel us to be responsible residents and neighbors. After all, how one manages his home and community tells a lot about what he thinks of himself. But our general lack of accountability is indicative by our apathy for the deterioration of our neighborhoods which we observe largely without intervention and interruption.
Keep Britain Tidy is a UK based independent environmental charity. The organization’s position is that, "Litter is one of the first signs of social decay. If we don’t care about litter on our street, in our parks or on our high streets, we are unlikely to care about other environmental issues that negatively impact on our lives, our communities and society.”
Littering and the acquiescence to it can be described as a ‘gateway’ to other communal ills. Litter begets litter. According a national study on litter by Keep America Beautiful, “One of the largest factors affecting a person’s decision to litter is the condition of the physical surroundings. Individuals are substantially more likely to litter into dirty or already littered environments than into clean ones … the difference is often as much as 2‐3 times as much litter in dirty environments.”
The study showed that litter is more likely to occur:
In other words, the worse an environment appears, the more neglected it is, the higher the likelihood those who interact within the environment will litter. We should also know that clean communities are safer communities. When communities are dirty and unsafe, residents are more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle which contributes to preventable health conditions. Studies also show that dirtier communities contribute to higher rates of anxiety and depression.
This means that there is a lot more at stake in ensuring our communities are clean. We have a great imperative to address the mentality that accompanies the tolerance of these conditions and in that mentality is the disconnect we must repair.
There has to be a changing of what we find socially tolerable. If we decide that we will not accept our communities as we see them currently and do the work to clean them up, we will create conditions that are a deterrent to littering and neglect.
We must have a restoration of pride and self respect. We make the case weak for others to respect our communities when we are indifferent towards them ourselves. No nonprofit group, no social service organization, no economic initiative can repair what is broken within the hearts and minds of a people in regards to their own pride and self respect.
We did not arrive to this indifference by ourselves, but this is absolutely an issue we must tackle ourselves. This disconnect is repairable and the answers lie within new behaviors we must model today. Our minds will follow these new behaviors and our children will copy our example.
Simple ways we can restore pride in our communities:
1. Clean outside our homes.
Do not let trash collect there. Clean up every day if necessary. Let your neighbors and children see you caring about your community’s appearance.
2. Clean up in front of our neighbor’s house.
The trash in front of your neighbor’s door will eventually make its way to your door; get ahead of it.
3. Host block cleanups.
Get your neighbors involved. We do not need outsiders to come into our communities to host cleanup campaigns. We can do this ourselves and create pride in doing so.
4. Encourage young people to dispose of trash properly.
Encourage them to take pride in their community. Teach them that they do not deserve to live in communities littered with trash. Give a positive word to them that will be a seed to sprout later.
5. Don’t run away.
Make our own communities clean, safe and desirable. We cannot outrun our broken mental condition. If we are broken in one neighborhood, we will take that brokenness to our next address and create the same problems there. Engage in proud behavior and a proud mind will follow.
Keeping our communities clean is not just aesthetically pleasing but is good for our overall health and mental wellbeing. There is no monopoly on good living. We are just one great decision away.
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Nurah strives to enlighten, empower and engage her readers with the wealth of knowledge she has gained from her own experiences and those of others from whom she has learned.