We have all been in this scenario… You are exiting a public restroom with a crumpled paper towel in hand, rushing out the door to resume your busy life. As you toss the paper towel into the trash can, a mighty gust of wind appears as if El Niño has come and gone in a flash. This gust changes the trajectory of your in-flight paper towel and lands it on the floor rather than in the trash can where you intended it.
At this point you are half-way, or maybe even all of the way, out the door. You have a brief mental lapse, then an emotional one, trying to decide if you should turn around, go back into that disgusting public restroom, and pick-up that darn paper towel. At first, you brush it off as if this moment doesn’t matter. Then, conversely, you somehow question your ethics, “what kind of person am I?” But then you realize that no one is watching, and it doesn’t really matter, and this isn’t about ethics anyway. You even justify it as being the right thing, “this is someone’s job, so I’m helping them stay in demand.” All of these thoughts happen in a fraction of a second. You stand frozen, weight balancing on a fulcrum, ready to move either toward or away from your mishap.
But today is special. Today, you are the best version of yourself. And so you turn back into the bathroom, hike up your trousers, and bend down to pick up your missed shot. No one will ever know the good deed you did, but you proverbially pat yourself on the back anyway, because you are leaving it better than when you came, and that feels right.
Do you always do this?
Do you leave it better than before you came?
That moment is fleeting. And, truth be told, you’re not a bad person if you leave the paper towel on the floor. But think about the people that came before you for a minute. And now the people that will come after you. Think about the people you admire, who made the world a better place, and gave their best in moments both big and small. Think of Gandhi, Thomas Edison, Nelson Mandela, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln. Think of your favorite person who lights up the room, who writes you a card on your birthday, who challenges you… All of them have one major thing in common: they left the world a better place.
Now think for a moment what you will be remembered for. Think for a moment what kind of world your children, and their children, will grow up in. Think of how you can leave it better for them, like the Master Gardeners who groom and maintain the great botanical gardens around the world.
Leaving it better isn’t just about paper towels in public restrooms. It isn’t just about physical items like gardens either. It’s about relationships, smiles, voting, leadership, business, politeness, thoughtfulness, friendship…
Leaving it better applies to everything and every action and every moment. It applies to cleaning graffiti and recycling, sure; but it also applies to the dimensions beyond the physical. It applies to character and momentum and ideas.
Do you leave it better? Is the world a better place because you were here? Do you build people up, or do you just exist around them? Is your company better off with you, or do you just collect a paycheck? Do you give people hope, or do you bring negativity to them? Do you wait in line at Taco Bell and complain rudely about the long wait, or do you make the best of the time that you are so fortunate to have in such safety? Do you create positive change, or are you just another fractional piece of the wear-and- tear on the earth?
Inky Johnson has an amazing story. A man who had the world by a string, and lost it all in one second. (See Inky’s full story here – it’s amazing). He says:
“As common courtesy to the generation that’s coming behind me in life, everything that I touch, everything that I am a part of, I vow to God that I will leave it better than when I found it.”
Will you leave it better than when you came today?