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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Adults clean up their messes

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: Opinions

We have all heard the cliche, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” but I feel that most of the time people fail to understand what it really means. For Spiderman, it means using his powers to catch the bad guys. But real people are not Spiderman, and they do not have super powers. In reality, this lesson means that, as adults, we have to claim accountability for own actions and respect the people around us.

Case in point: I am generally not a very clean person. I don’t own a vacuum. I don’t wipe down surfaces all that often. But when I find myself in a public place, I take that seriously. This is not my personal space to sully as I please. This is a shared space that other people also use. I know that if I were to walk into a classroom containing a filthy carpet and sticky desks, I would be pretty grossed out. I have immense respect for public, shared spaces, so I make extra effort to clean up after myself. What right do I have to let my personal mess negatively affect someone else?

It has recently come to my attention that this is not how everyone views public space. I am a first-year, living on my own for the first time. I am sharing my dorm hallway with 30 other first-years, most of whom are also living on their own for the first time. They are all very nice, and most of them whom I have seen are quite clean. But there are some—I don’t know which ones—who have made a habit of leaving huge clumps of their hair in the bathroom showers. The hair sticks to the walls and clogs the drains, making the showers—the very place we go to get clean—seem at best unpleasant and at worst downright repulsive.

And it’s not just in the showers that I see the sanctity of public space violated. It’s the water that’s left on the sink counters. It’s the dryer lint traps that people leave full. It’s the crumb-covered tables in the dining halls, complete with the used napkins from the previous occupants. It’s the litter often found on the ground all over campus despite many convenient trash and recycle bins.

What I don’t understand is this notion that we are not responsible for our own messes, that we are somehow not obligated to clean up after ourselves. We are no longer small children with our parents following us around and picking up our toys. We are supposedly young adults deemed by the federal government and our culture as a whole as capable of making political decisions, giving consent (under other safe circumstances, of course), signing legally binding documents and taking our fate into our own hands with waivers. In return for these freedoms and privileges, we are required to pay taxes, to support ourselves financially and to follow the laws created by our representative government and face the consequences of breaking them.

It works the same way here on a smaller scale. We are free of our parents’ constant nagging now—nobody will tell us to eat our vegetables or brush our teeth before bed. That means that we have to now make our own dietary and hygiene decisions, and if they are bad ones, then we have to deal with the consequences. The core of my problem is not that these people are untidy and sometimes even dirty. If they lived alone and they were the only ones to use their showers, then they would be free to leave as much hair on the drain as they wish. My problem is that their carelessness is affecting me. Their lazy hygiene decisions have a negative impact on my life. If I want to feel clean after my shower, I now find myself in the position of having to clean up not only my own hair, but other people’s hair.

Everyday people are not superheroes with special abilities or special obligations. But we do have the power to make our own decisions, and with that power comes its own kind of responsibility. It is not spectacular and it is not glamorous. Our responsibility is not to keep a city safe—it’s to clean up our own hair in the public bathroom.