I love working with the groups that come through our doors (well, truth be told, I love working with most of them). Many of the groups that come to DC and stay with us do so with an aspiration to learn, to advocate and to do service work. All of this is important stuff that needs to be done if we are to truly be a part of making the world a better place. The groups do some great things - cleaning neighbor's yards and houses, picking litter from river banks and trash traps, helping prepare meals and join in fellow-ship with people from other walks of life and those in need, and learning about and giving voice to the environmental and justice needs of the greater community.
So it is always a dilemma for me (and I'm sure for my co-workers) when they leave our place and it is a mess, or garbage cans are full of empty water bottles, aluminum cans, and wrappers from junk food. It's happened with groups of all ages and here for all kinds of reasons and issues from Workcamps to seminars. The dilemma is that I fully understand how, after a busy day, it is easy to just "let one's hair down" and kick back. I certainly don't want people to lose sight of the bigger picture. At the same time, I also know that all things are connected and, if we are to truly make a difference, we have to get on a journey of greater consciousness and stewardship - one that includes taking time to look around us and be present in the moment as we journey from point to point.
One of the things we try to promote in our programs and Workcamps is that these are places to exercise what we believe, not just talk about it. The exercise is very much a practice - as in we practice it so we can be better at it. Think of it as training - constantly trying to improve. In this way, perhaps, we can see why what we might think should be easy fixes if only others would be different really are not so easy as we see difficult is to live our beliefs. This is not to say we should not continue to push for the external changes, but perhaps our messages may come across when we speak with genuine humility. Can we really expect others (i.e. our political leaders) to clean up our environment when on a daily basis we walk right over trash? Can we really expect the energy issues of our time to go away when we sit around in groups on our laptops and cell phones in warm, well-lit rooms on cold evenings? Can we really bemoan the influence of multi-national corporations and then proceed to throw our meal money at food counters that are part of these corporations unbeknownst to us?
Of course, we also cannot be so hyper-vigilant about these things that we paralyze ourselves. If we were to pick up every piece of trash as we go from place to place, we'd never get there. What we can do, however, is commit that we will take a few minutes to insure that the world is a better place because we have been there. For me, this always has to start where I have been and where I spend my days. When groups leave our place a mess, I wonder how successful we have been.