Recently, my youngest son received a green Blue Peter badge for his efforts in picking up litter around our local community. He didn’t just do it for the badge, though: it’s something he’s done quite naturally for a long time on dog walks and on the way back home from school. The sight of him laden with armfuls of crisp packets, fizzy drink cans and sweet wrappers while we seek out the nearest bin has become a familiar sight on our daily excursions. It’s simultaneously depressing and inspiring, but his words to me on the subject are positive : ‘if everyone did a little bit, together we could do a lot.’
I think his distaste for seeing litter, and the desire to do something about it, is probably an example of modelling behaviour. I have a slightly obsessive reaction to seeing litter lying around – proper cracks in the pavement stuff – and find it really hard to pass it by. Although I hope he doesn’t pick up all of Mummy’s behavioural tendencies, this is one I’m pretty happy about. We live in a beautiful part of the world – seeing it strewn with leftover drinks containers, cigarette packets and yep, empty cider cans (the staples of our countryside pickups): not so pretty. By picking up a few pieces of litter on every outing, we do what little we can to help.
My son asked me the other day why people drop litter in the first place. I found it a difficult question to answer: is it negative modelling, a societal issue, or a general disregard of actions and their consequences within the world? My son’s own reasoning was characteristically optimistic: people do it by accident. We need more of his sanguine approach, I think: that clear-eyed desire to have faith in human nature. Without people who can think the best of humankind, the future of the world would be really rather bleak.
And yet out of it all comes hope for the future: that the next generation of grown ups might do things a little better. I know my son’s actions have encouraged some of his friends and relatives to pick up litter – after all, doesn’t the world belong to us all? The idea that things are someone else’s fault, someone else’s problem doesn’t really exist to children: they just focus on making things better.
The realisation that together, we can do anything.
Littles against litter.
Small steps to change the world.