Every morning at Oak Hill Academy, the community hears a devotion in homeroom assembly–a positive start to the day. Our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt, regularly addresses the students and staff on Wednesdays during this time. Below is one recent offering, about how doing little things strengthens our small boarding school community.
There is a situation that I consistently run into–both as a parent, and as a school administrator. I’m sure you can relate: while walking around our dining hall, I see a napkin left on a table, or a cup, or a fork, and I ask someone leaving the table – “Can you please pick that up and throw it away, or put it in the dish window?” And what do they say? You can guess what they say: “That’s not my fork, my napkin, my cup. I didn’t do that.”
That drives me nuts. Why? Because someone’s got to do it. If I could track down the owner of the napkin, if I could interrupt the breakfast meal, hold up homeroom, do an investigation, call in witnesses, take fingerprints and collect DNA to determine the original user of the napkin or cup, wouldn’t that be great? …But really? Ultimately, I don’t care who did it; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a fork on the table that needs to get picked up. I’ve picked up 7 already, and it really doesn’t matter who left them, the forks needs to get cleaned! Is it my job? Is it someone else’s job? Who cares? Pick up the fork!
Those of us who are parents spend half our lives cleaning up other people’s messes. Last night (like many nights before) I went around the house turning off lights, picking up toys, putting away dishes, arranging shoes–none of which were mine. I didn’t make the messes. Should my kids learn to clean up after themselves? Sure. Are they messy? Yes. Do they need to be more responsible? Yes. (And that goes for the rest of us, too.) But in the moment, what matters is that there are lights on unnecessarily and they need to get turned off. I remember when my oldest son was about 3 months old. I changed his diaper for probably the 6th time that day. Afterward, I called up my mom and thanked her. I had no idea about all the things my parents did for me–how much time, work, and energy they put into me. We have no idea how much others are coming behind us, cleaning up our messes.
There’s a book that I love that I read to my kids. It’s called If Everybody Did, by Jo Ann Stover. It goes through humorous situations about what would happen if everybody…walked in the house with muddy shoes, left toys on the stairs, or squeezed the cat. Of course the results are catastrophic—and funny. In the world outside a children’s book, what would happen if everybody left dirty utensils on the table, spit on the sidewalk, or threw their trash in the ocean? I dream sometimes about the opposite–what if everybody didn’t?
So what happens at Oak Hill if we all ignore the candy wrapper on the sidewalk? What if everybody thinks, “Well, someone else will pick it up.” What if we all assume someone else will pick up the water bottle we left on the bleachers, or the fries we dropped on the floor? What if we all just said, “Well, I didn’t do that…not my problem, someone else’s job”?
On the flipside, I sometimes imagine, and even catch glimpses of, an OHA community where “Everybody Did”–for good. What if we were a school campus where everybody looked out for each other, held the door, picked up after each other, noticed what needed to be done–and did it, even if it wasn’t their problem?
I see glimpses of that: a student checking the van to make sure it’s clean before getting off; another boxing up a board game she probably didn’t leave out; a dorm resident helping clear out her floor when her Resident Manager was sick; a wrestler staying behind to clean a mat; another student helping carry cardboard boxes to recycling.
That’s the community I want to be a part of, where “everybody does” the good things. And let me tell you, I’m grateful for people who do help me out, who are willing to pick up my messes, and who don’t hold my shortcomings against me–because I’ve inadvertently left behind my fair share of napkins, or coffee mugs, or dirty cups.
So please, next time I ask you to do something like pick up a napkin, don’t say, “It’s not mine.” Remember that you are part of this community. And remember how much others have done for you. Then stoop down and pick up that breakfast bar wrapper on the way to church.
We’re in this life together.
Director of Student Affairs