Your actions matter

For the past two weeks, walking from my parking space to school, I’ve passed a shattered Kokanee bottle on the sidewalk. There’s nothing particularly special about it, just shards of brown glass pushed up against a wall. But it makes me think.

Here’s what I think happened.

A small group of university students decide going to the Den on a Friday night is a good idea, but prohibitively expensive. They go out and buy a case of the cheapest beer they can find, taking it back to a conveniently located house and playing whichever drinking game will get them drunk fastest.

When it comes time to leave, one of them–let’s call him Frank–isn’t finished his Kokanee. Shrugging off public open-alcohol laws, he brings his bottle along with him. Soon, Frank decides that he should probably get rid of the evidence before Campus Security catches him with it. He dramatically throws his head back, gulping down the remainder of his precious nectar and hurling the empty shell to the ground with a triumphant howl. His buddies whoop and cheer, slapping his back in congratulations for the superb feat of chugging. Frank feels like a man.

Or maybe that’s not how it happened at all. Maybe they were just getting drunk in a parking lot, or carrying beer to a frat house, or tossing rocks at an empty bottle for target practice. Maybe it was thrown from a moving car. Maybe it was dropped from a plane after a garbage disposal malfunction. I’ll never be able to say for sure why that shattered bottle is lying on my path to school. I do, however, know the effect it had on me.

When I first walked by the broken bottle, I wondered how it got there. Over the next week, I wondered why no one was clearing it off the sidewalk. Then I wondered why I wasn’t clearing it off the sidewalk, deciding I was too lazy. Then I started getting philosophical.

Whoever discarded that bottle probably hasn’t thought of it since. It was just a bottle, throwing it away wasn’t a major event. They have no idea that I see the bottle every day, or that I think about the person who put it there. They had no idea, throwing away that bottle, that I would end up writing an article about it.

It occurs to me that every action we take, or don’t take, will have a great number of effects.

If you sleep in and skip class, Jonathon Carsdale won’t see you checking your watch at the bus stop, reminding him suddenly that his missing watch was left sitting on his girlfriend’s bedside table the night before she became his ex-girlfriend, spurring him to ring her doorbell, the first contact they’ve had since the break-up. Impulsively, they go on a date, unearthing feelings they’d both thought were buried and rekindling a relationship everyone thought was dead. They move in together and have a child, a daughter, before breaking up. Alice Carsdale will live with her father until shortly after her 21st birthday, when she’ll move to Switzerland and become a critically acclaimed, financially overlooked poet. But none of that will happen, because you’re not at the bus stop. You’re asleep.

Going to school with over 20,000 other students, living in a city with nearly a million inhabitants, I often feel insignificant. If I watch a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon instead of mowing the lawn and taking my dog for a walk, who will notice? If I wear khakis instead of jeans, what difference will it make to anyone?

The fact is people do notice. My actions and inactions, my choices, affect and are affected by the people that surround me. It’s very difficult to feel insignificant knowing my choice of wardrobe might make someone fail an exam, or allow two people the chance to fall in love.

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