Vol. 9, No. 16
April 19-25, 2001
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The World We Share is No Private Kingdom
By Patricia Kirby

Flick! The cigarette butt landed by the roadside just ahead of me as I drove along the marsh south of North Beach. The young woman who had tossed it so cavalierly kept walking on. It was just one of countless repetitions of similar scenarios.

No doubt the young woman never gave the event another thought. But that particular cigarette has been smoldering in my own thoughts for several weeks. In fact, the cigarette has turned itself into a question mark. Why? Why do people turn the world we share into their own private kingdom to do with as they wish, when they wish? What makes this possible?

The scheduling of twice-yearly marsh cleanups by North Beach's House & Garden Club - such as the one coming up this very Saturday - testifies to the fragile connection between the individual and the larger community. Club members haul out sacksful of cigarette butts each year, along with an incredible amount of other cast-off personal trash. Despite the beautiful gift of Chesapeake Country, the prevalent personal philosophy is all too often, 'It's mine to do with as I please.' The equally beautiful gift of having dominion over the earth has nothing in common with that sort of creed.

One of the best things about the ongoing beautification of Twin Beaches in recent years is that some terrific social science findings should automatically kick in. It's actually been found that when property is kept attractive, local pride increases and trashing decreases. But not always. The House & Garden Club has also noticed that the planters set out for adoption by individuals have occasionally been vandalized. Rumor or guesswork has it that the culprits are other young people.

Is it just the young, then, for whom the connection between self and society is severed? By no means. They shouldn't take the rap alone. After all, whose values guided them as they grew up?

It's often said that no individual can really make a difference in the world. That may be true if the measuring stick is something like Olympic stardom. But this week, as spring finally has a chance of breaking through the splotchy chill and people recall the accounts of Passover and Easter they've just celebrated, it seems like a good point to reconsider. Perhaps just an occasional comment of pride on what we have in Chesapeake Country could bring one other person to stop and think before trashing. Multiplied, that reoccurring scenario could offset and even overtake the tossed cigarette butt scenario.

But you know what? I catch myself wondering what would happen if we set out seed packets mounted on stakes along the roadside with the comment, 'Why not plant these instead of trash?' A dash of humor - coupled with a question mark - might go a long way toward helping reweave the connection between individual and society - and erasing my original question of what makes it possible for individuals to treat the world as theirs alone.

Patricia Kirby, a 1990s' transplant to North Beach and now-and-again contributor to Bay Weekly, is teaching Self and Society, via computer, at University of Maryland University College this semester.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly