He was staring at me.
His lips didn’t utter a word, but the look in his eyes said it all, ‘You’re dumb.’
I was on a train from Delhi to my hometown Lakshminagar (Muzaffarnagar) in Western Uttar Pradesh. And the guy staring at me was one of the boys coming back after (apparently) appearing in some competitive exam.
It was wintertime. A peanut seller boarded the train, and most of the passengers, I included, bought some. I was sitting in the single chair along with the window. Now, here’s the thing: I try to keep my surroundings clean—as much as possible, so I transferred the peanuts from the carry bag to the right pocket of my jacket and kept the bag in my lap.
I was munching and putting the peanut shells in the paper bag. Most of the boys in the compartment were amused watching me. They were staring at me as if I were an alien—a blue, ghostly figure with eyes larger than oranges. And I could understand why—because I was the only one not dropping the peanut-shells on the floor.
The “Littering” Boys Were Confused
The boys sitting on the right-hand side berth were confused by my “strange behaviour.” One of them was desperate to figure out what was happening. But he couldn’t, and finally, asked me jokingly, ‘Brother, what would you do with those shells?’
‘Well, I’ll throw them where they belong—in the dustbin,’ I replied.
The train was making a lot of sounds, but there was a deafening silence inside the compartment.
The next moment…
The hands moved again, and kept moving—peanuts shells were still hitting the floor, but with guilt.
Here’s the thing:
Guilt is the most dangerous thing in the world; the reason behind it doesn’t matter.
Now, my question to you is—do you litter—do you feel guilty?
Littering is Not Dangerous, Guilt Is
Guilt does not transform. Understanding does.
You were not born with the littering habit. Ram Ji didn’t say, ‘OK, I am sending you to Earth. Here’s the littering habit. Keep it with you at all times. It’s a bit nasty, but it’ll make you feel connected with fellow human beings.’
No. You weren’t born with it. You acquired it—from your surroundings, from your friends, from your parents (maybe).
Just like me.
You see, I also used to litter because I was trying to imitate my parents (kids do that all the time, right?) When I realised that’s not the way, I stopped littering. In fact, I’ve once had an argument with my mother over littering.
It was a chilly winter evening—my parents and I were munching on peanuts, all warm and cosy in our quilts.
She was insisting that it’s OK to litter the shells in the room because she was going to clean the place in the morning anyway.
And I was trying to make her understand that if she had to clean the waste, why not keep the shells in a bowl? Why waste time and energy on something she could avoid in the first place?
And then I realised:
Littering is just a habit. And habits can be changed.
That’s where the ‘understanding’ comes in. You don’t need to beat yourself up for littering around—no need for that. Instead, realise that you need to live your life with a little more mindfulness.
A more conscious lifestyle.
Be alert. Start holding yourself accountable for the cleanliness of your body and surroundings.
If you feel it’s time to change the habit from littering to keeping clean, here are three tips:
1. Realise that Littering is Just a Habit (And Habits Can be Changed)
Oops! Did I repeat myself?
You see, there’s no need to criticise yourself for being a litterer up till now. Now that you’ve understood the reality, you can surely change the littering habit. Just remember to be kind to yourself. Indeed, old habits die hard, but with consistent practice, you’re bound to succeed.
2. Carry a Polybag
I know poly bags are the main culprit to land pollution and sewage blockages. If burned, they make the air unfit for breathing.
But I’m not asking you to dump them. Just carry a polybag to keep the wastage (wrappers of chocolates and biscuits, banana peels, peanut shells etc.).
They come in handy when there’s no dustbin in-sight. You can keep the polybag in your laptop bag or your handbag and once you’re home—dump the wastage in the trash. Pretty cool, right?
3. Don’t Ask Others to Give Up Littering
‘But shouldn’t I encourage others to follow my footsteps? Shouldn’t I be making others aware of this nasty habit?’
Remember you also used to litter? How would you’ve felt if I met you on the street and asked you not to? You would’ve hated me, and maybe hit me as well.
You see, nobody likes to follow orders from strangers or even friends. If you want others to stop littering, lead by example. Don’t say it. Do it. And some people someday might start doing the same.
But it’s not for you to decide who does.
It’s Possible to Change from Littering to “Keeping it Clean”
Littering is nothing but an unconscious behaviour you might have picked from family or peers or surroundings. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change it.
All you have to do is to stay positive and keep appropriately modifying your behaviour. And that can be done with awareness.
Don’t criticise yourself even if you do litter at times—it’s human, perfectly normal. Stay positive, and within a short period, you shall be able to dump the littering habit once and for all.