Just a few days ago, my first sight in the morning was a waterfall of droplets cascading down three stories of a wooden stairs, dripping through ceilings and walls, dropping along wooden stairs, and settling in the cellar. My schedule was dramatically re-arranged so I could clean up, although the first task was to locate the tap, which took more time than I would have liked. It was messy and distressing, as I am still waiting to see if 114-year old wattle and plaster walls are resilient…. or if handmade recently restored wallpaper might peel off the walls.
After my third cup of coffee, and when telling the story to some houseguests, one said to me, ‘oh, yes, I noticed the carpet was wet last night.’ I have spent quite some time thinking about this statement, trying to find a good reason one would think a wet carpet in a hallway was normal and did not need to be mentioned (I have also been trying to avoid the wave of resentment of what could have been avoided if this person took the brave step of mentioning the dampness. Brave? Well, yes, since clearly he felt deterred from mentioning the wet spot, even if his reason was discounting his own curiosity (in what situation would a wet carpet be normal, I ask (again)). And I have been thinking about responsibility.
It seems to me that people too rarely want to take responsibility. Not necessarily complete control, but co-responsibility to create the world we want in the way that we want. Is your action helping create the world you envisage? Are you a peace activist who interrupts other people before they can finish their thought? Or are you one who always commits to listening well?
Litter is one example that an English person gave me recently, showing citizens refusing responsibility : people littering and not thinking about how the packaging would eventually get removed from the street. Or not sharing the responsibility to keep the place clean. Even if one brave person does speak up, others do not, and so the swell of social pressure does not build to encourage the litterer to stop littering.
We seem to still suffer a bit from magical thinking, but I want to make sure it is clear: damage can be irreversible. The wall paper could discolour and fall off the wall, and the wood swell and crack. The climate is altering through global warming, the Gulf Stream could change course, and northern Europe may experience from continental northerly weather. It won’t then go back to the relatively balmy climate we have had for years. The fact it can change in one direction does not mean it will change back. Rainfall patterns changing mean dry areas are getting drier. People die in conflict and from starvation, and that is permanent. We need more brave people – we need everyone to be brave, and to make the changes needed to create a different world, to avert damage, to create something positive (imagine the shared joy and relief if we had averted the flood of water with the mention of the wet carpet).
I am not saying that people are not willing to share tasks. It’s a bit like making a salad : there are some people who sit in the other room and wait for the salad to be brought to them, some who find a fork for themselves, others who grab a bundle of forks so that others can eat as well as themselves, and some who volunteer to chop. But are you a brave person who volunteers to design a dressing for the salad? Or to co-plan the array of vegetables to go in, and whether chopped, sliced, or grated ?
Do you take the brave steps? Do you speak to others to explain why we need to take responsibility to create the world that we want, or do you notice the damp carpet and keep mum, thinking surely someone else will handle it. Do you ask yourself if you need to overcome the obstacles which prevent you taking action and thereby prevent potentially irreversible damage? When will you begin?