Sunday, January 23, 2011

"It's my ministry to them."

My last job was at a church/school - so our work area was a public/private place. There were also congregants, people seeking help, students and school parents, the public. So it wasn't like an office where everyone who's there is there because they work there. I had many opportunities to find myself walking somewhere on the campus with one of my bosses and their boss Jeff. I noticed that whenever Jeff saw a scrap of paper he'd scoop it up and deposit it in the nearest trash can. Same with other little tidying jobs. Now... we had a great janitorial staff and Jeff was the C-level finance guy who suited-up every day. One day I finally had to ask him why he picked up litter when we had such a good team who kept the buildings in great shape.

He answered that it was his ministry to them. At the time, I thought that was a great answer. I started doing likewise, and not just at work, but in other places, too. Not in an unsanitary way, but if I was at a restaurant and I had dried my hands and there was a paper towel on the counter or floor, I could use my paper towel to grab that other paper towel without touching it and drop them both in the trash. I guess it was the Boy Scout in me (leave things better than you find them).

Because it's such an unnatural act, I've been reminded of Jeff every time I do it. And it's occurred to me over the years that there might be other reasons he did it. First, there wasn't really a cost to him to stop and pick up the piece of trash. He was already going somewhere, he could bend down and grab it while barely breaking stride. If he didn't, perhaps someone else might call janitorial to come and take care of it, or if they were moving tables or chairs, or vacuuming, it might be harder for them to stop to take care of, or be more of an interruption. Plus, it was a pride of ownership. As a member of the church and an employee, he was keeping it clean, making it look good for everyone else. And he was also saying "Yeah, I'm a big man on campus and your boss' boss reports to me, but your work is important and not beneath me." without saying a word. Classy.

It's interesting now because my daughter will see trash and want to pick it up and throw it away. I have to quickly assess how safe/sanitary that is and if so, give her the nod to go ahead -- sometimes simultaneously reaching for a baby wipe from her brother's diaper bag. Otherwise, we have to look at the reasons why that in this particular instance we're better off leaving it for someone else. But it's encouraging, I guess I've set a good example.
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