The catch phrase of Smokey the Bear, “Only you can prevent wild fires,” was instilled in me at a very young age, as well as the lesson that one should leave a campsite better than one found it. It was our responsibility to take care of these special places, to take care of them for others, and for ourselves. This is done with the hope that when we come back, the pristine mountain lake that you remember is not a green soup of beer cans, used Tupperware, and dead three headed fish.
While definitely not true in all parks, most people seem to follow this simple yet profound courtesy, which begs the question: why we do not carry this same thinking to other parts of our lives?
While Smokey the Bear is pretty tied up in his work preventing wild fires, his message of personal responsibility should extend far beyond the woods. Smokey the Bear is not threatening us, he is not informing us of a rule. He is simply relating a fact. That fact is that if you do not care for it, then the world could actually burst into flames. What I am confused about is why this isn’t applied to everything else?
Why is it that people expect someone to clean up their mess, to do their laundry, to clean their dishes, to clean the floors….oh wait, at Gustavus they do.
You have about 12 loads of laundry that you have to do, and once your dishes are on the conveyor belt in the Caf, you don’t think twice about them. And all too often, I see people pretending that the custodians who care for our homes are invisible. Perhaps the reason why we do not take responsibility for ourselves is that, up until now, we really have not had to.
Frankly, I am rather sad. In a few years, our generation is going to take over the world. We will be the ones running business, practicing medicine, campaigning for public office, but many of us will still not be bothered to do our own laundry and will instead settle on taking it home for Mom.
Smokey would be disappointed. Not only is our lack of personal responsibility a problem for others who are left with our mess to clean up, but it is also incredibly unfair to ourselves.
Responsibility is a recognition of ability, an ability that provides you the capacity to do something: to leave the campsite better than you found it. If we are always leaving our garbage for others to deal with, never fixing our own problems or coming up with our own solutions, we paralyze ourselves with the fictitious belief of our own helplessness.
This is Gustavus. This is where we learn how to change the world. So take on some personal responsibility for yourself, listen to Smokey, and for God’s sake, go do your laundry.