Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Earlier today I witnessed someone litter from their car while driving. Few things can get me so angry so quickly, but littering from your car, that does it pretty well. It made me think about why a lot of people seem to be very lax about their attitudes towards public cleanliness. I don’t really know why, to be honest.

Ever since I was little, I was taught to throw rubbish where it was meant to go, i.e. the rubbish bin. Teachers told me that all the time, and most grownups said the same. I remember a secondary school teacher of ours giving a lecture on stage during one of our weekly assemblies, criticising us school kids of our inability to throw rubbish where it was supposed to go. That teacher compared us to a rival school of ours (SMK Sultanah Asma). Legend has it that over there, there wasn’t a rubbish bin anywhere on the school compound, so any rubbish that you had had to be put in your pocket and be thrown away when you went home. So disciplined were the students of Asma that no rubbish was ever to be found on the floors of the place. The teacher’s point was that if the students of Asma could keep their rubbish in their pockets until they got home, we could certainly hold on to our candy-wrappers and scrap pieces of paper until we found a nearby rubbish bin.

But what really got me to start hating littering happened a lot earlier than that. During primary school, I attended a jamboree for the scouts. I think I was in standard four or something like that. During one of the nights, a speaker was doing his thing, talking to all us kids about stuff and things, most of which escaped my mind that very same night. 

But one story stuck to my mind. The grownup started talking about not throwing rubbish merata tempat and told a story about the experience he had that made him stop littering and start picking up litter on the street. He was having a walk in a public park one day, and not too far in front of him was a tourist, a foreigner just walking on his own enjoying nature. While they were walking on the track, the tourist stopped in his tracks, bent down and picked up a candy wrapper that was sitting on the ground, held on to it for a few steps and discharged the piece of rubbish into the nearby rubbish bin.

This made the brother ashamed of himself because he felt like this foreigner dude loves this country more than he did because of his action of picking up rubbish and putting it into its rightful place. He reflected that he had never done such a thing, even after all these years of living here and admitting to loving this country as a citizen. From that day onwards, he would pick up any rubbish that he saw on the floor wherever he was near and throw it into a rubbish bin.

That story affected me a lot and to this day I feel the same way the scout brother felt whenever I see any manageable piece of rubbish lying around. My understanding of the situation has also somewhat evolved throughout the years too. I now take the view that the tourist didn’t pick up the rubbish out of love towards this country. He did it out of love towards general cleanliness, out of loving this planet as a natural ecosystem, out of plain human decency. You don’t have to be patriotic to like cleanliness and dislike litter. You just have to be a decent human being. That way, you’ll take care not to litter anywhere you went, not just within the confines of your own country’s borders. Wherever you go, goodness goes, and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

It always baffled me that so many people (even grownups, mind you) are still so very lax about their attitudes towards littering when that’s all they’ve ever been taught in school, if anything: to throw rubbish in the rubbish bin. A lecture about cleanliness is bound to come up during the weekly assemblies at least once a month, and kids are always always always told to stick to their jadual tugas in the class and clean up the class on their designated days. Yet, the very value of cleanliness manages to escape them and they live life being okay with throwing plastic into the drain, because apparently that ain’t their problem to deal with.

Maybe a new approach to teaching cleanliness is in order. Because at this rate, people who do value general cleanliness and are able to pick up rubbish on the ground while they’re strolling around in the mall are the exception rather than the rule. People who see rubbish on the sidewalk five steps away from a rubbish as an opportunity to do good in the world rather than just another thing the cleaner has to deal with are few and far between. And this fact saddens me.

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