If you want to develop or to refresh a hatred of humanity there is no better way, at least in England, that to go litter-picking in an English rural lane. Recently my wife and I have been so horrified by the increase in littering in the beautiful countryside not far from us that we have decided to do a little clearing up of our own. We can clear about two hundred yards of verge (on both sides of the road) in about half an hour, yielding two sacks of rubbish.
Overwhelmingly the rubbish consists of the garish wrappings, cans and bottles of the disgusting things that the English eat and drink in such vast quantities. An examination of the litter resolves a question asked by the ancient Greek philosophers as to whether any man does wrong knowingly. The answer is, Yes, he does.
Numbers of people insinuate their garbage deep into a hedgerow so that it can’t be seen from a car. It takes effort to get, say, a can of tooth-rot deep into a hedge: if you just throw it casually from a moving car, I should imagine, it would just bounce off the hedge. Litterers do wrong knowingly.
As for the junk food, I found myself having the most uncharitable thoughts as I examined its wrappings. This food is extremely unhealthy, of course, but I found myself wishing it were a good deal unhealthier. I didn’t want its ill-effects to manifest themselves later in life, or gradually, by means of obesity, high blood prerssure and type II diabetes, but now, immediately. Why, then, no strychnine or arsenic-flavoured crisps, or aconite pie. (I picked up the wrapping of a brand called Fridge Raiders, advertised as After-school nibbles for starving kids, or midnight feasts for ravenous teens, and wished the spicy tikka flavor had been antimony instead.)
The strange thing is that, as I picked the litter, I began to hate the people who drove past me in cars. I didn’t see any of them throw litter out of their vehicles, but I assumed (quite wrongly, of course) that they were all guilty of it at some time. But this was not the reason I hated them: it was because they drove by with their noses in the air without so much as acknowledging my existence, let alone my civic spirit.
Therefore, when you see someone performing a menial but essential and honourable task, such as cleaning the street, take the time to thank him.