Love thy neighbor — or just treat them with decency
“No one picks up their trash!” said the freshman in her a cappella callback. This past week, as a member of an a cappella group, I endured numerous callbacks with my fellow singers. In one of them, when asked about a “hot take on campus so far,” this is what a freshman said, even after only two weeks of attending Washington University in Saint Louis.
During my time at WashU, the disrespect that students show the service staff has been nothing short of abhorrent. Leaving trash at any given location because “It’s someone’s job to clean it up” is a lazy and privileged thing to believe. It doesn’t take long to pick up the crumpled chip bag and place it in the trash after you miss a toss, or take your plastic cup with you and find a recycling bin on the way to class. You can smile in Miss Connie’s face, but if you leave your half-eaten blueberry muffin and watered-down coffee on the table at Whispers, what does that smile even mean? After all, we all laugh and joke with friends who take advantage of us, all the while knowing they aren’t genuine, and in the end, it doesn’t feel good. All I ask is that we take the time to think of those who keep this campus running — who keep our stomachs full and our coffees iced — even when they aren’t swiping our meal cards. Though we are all moving fast, with classes to attend, clubs to run and papers to print, we must remember that respecting the campus, and especially the people who maintain it, is vital.
Yes, we should keep this campus clean for ourselves, for the environment and for future generations, but really, we should strive to clean up for each other. We should care about global warming, the islands of trash off the west coast, but also the people sitting right next to us, the man who has to disinfect the table where you were just sitting or the next people to occupy your booth. We should treat the space how we’d like to encounter it.
We have all helped out a friend when they needed it — given them quick directions to January Hall, picked up an extra free T-shirt at a WashU event or thrown away their cup along with ours — and I wonder why we can’t also be considerate to those who aren’t close friends. Why do we have to love someone to think of them — to show them human kindness?
We all know the saying “love thy neighbor,” but I’d posit that we don’t even need to do that. Why do we need to love each other to treat each other like human beings? I don’t believe I have to love people to treat them with human decency: to clean up after myself, to leave the Whispers booth empty of bottles and napkins, to say “Excuse me,” to smile at the woman at the counter, to ask her how she is, maybe, and to actually listen to the response — to give grace when she can’t hear me say my order or when there’s a back-up in the kitchen. I think, too often, WashU students treat campus like a video game in which our messes are magically clean when we turn back to look at them. The staff behind the counters, in the bathrooms and sweeping the floors, are not the background characters in the movies of our lives — they are people, and they should be treated as such. Being considerate is not about loving, liking or even knowing the person who will be cleaning up your trash — it’s about human decency.