Sometimes I can spot the pollutant in my seemingly altruistic intentions.
Yesterday as I arrived at work and got out of my car I spotted a spent bag of popcorn lying in the parking lot, the type of popcorn that comes in a bag like potato chips. I picked up the bag, brought it into the building at work and threw it into the small trash can by the front door as I said good morning to my coworker. As the bag fell into the trash can, bits of popcorn remnants fell from the bag and scattered in front of the door.
The rest of my coworkers came in one by one, each in turn asking what they were stepping over. The coworker I originally greeted made a joke about it being left by a critter, with “two legs, two hands, one of them occupied” or something to that effect. After hearing this joke recycled like stale air to a third coworker, I finally had to explain that it was my doings, my created mess, and that my coworker was making a joke at my expense. I sealed my explanation with the statement “No good deed goes unpunished”, which ironically is a statement I truly dislike.
My aggravation was at the fact that while I had taken the time to pick up this piece of litter and throw it away rather than leave it in the parking lot to add to our disregard for the health of our environment, it had turned into a source of ridicule for my clumsiness and sloppiness. My magnanimous gesture had turned into a joke.
And as I’m prone to do, I took this situation and splayed it out on the autopsy table, ready to dissect it to determine the cause of death of this grand gesture. When I let my annoyance cool from its previously simmering state, I recognized myself as the origin point of the petard from which I had hoisted myself. After all, that entire event had to transpire before I actually got a broom and cleaned up the actual mess I made. Now I was left to clean up the historical mess in my mind.
I went back in my memory to the parking lot where the spent bag of popcorn lay. I recall walking past the dumpster… The dumpster is locked and the lid can only be opened a crack… it’ll be easier to dispose of inside… as I conveniently ignore the fact that the bag is flat and the lid of the dumpster can offer a 1 inch space to slip it through. At the same time I notice my coworker through the window and my decision is set.
The grand intention of policing the parking lot was tainted. It had become corrupt by the need to make a show of my altruism, to make sure my coworker saw me “doing my part to keep the environment clean”. The minister was misguided to an inappropriately matched congregation once again. Then the part of my subconscious that orchestrated this whole event danced on the grave of a healthy self-consciousness as I got my wish, that not only one coworker, but all my coworkers got to bear witness to the wonders of my good deed, through the derision I received in the mess I made from the person I was originally trying to secretly impress.
It was terribly uncomfortable to have to look myself in the eye and be that brutally honest, but I did finally see the truth in the matter. I will not defend helping keep my world clean, one piece of trash at a time. But I will own the parasite that attached itself to my magnanimous gesture, that fed off the insecurity of who I am that needed to show its good intentions to the world. If I know my intentions are right, then they need to stand on their own. I do not need to seek approval. I will make sure to do a thorough delousing before taking on any more good deeds.