This is an account of day 13 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 13 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to pick up one bag of trash. The goal is, as Marcus Aurelius spoke of many times in the Meditations, common good. The task draws inspiration from the hashtag #TrashTag – an online challenge encouraging social media users to clean up their local area by lifting trash.
Today’s instructional email from the Daily Stoic urges challenge participants to get involved:
Today it’s your turn to join in: Find a place that needs to be cleaned up and get to it. Fill a garbage bag. A shopping bag. Whatever you have time for. The more the better.
Because trash assaults all of our senses and impacts our ability to experience the world with those very senses. The feel of grass under foot is impeded by cigarette butts and styrofoam. The sight of a beautiful landscape is obstructed by shredded plastic bags caught in a fence. The smell of summer rain on city streets is muddled by the stench of garbage water in the cobblestones. The sounds of the silent morning are shattered by rusted soda cans tumbling in the wind.
But we can fix all that. For ourselves and for each other. Community, partnership, fellowship, neighborliness, and cooperation are all heavily emphasized in the Stoic texts because we were designed, Marcus says over and over, for each other’s sake.
Today’s task was short and straightforward, with an immediate payoff. Picking up trash is good for your community, your neighbours, but it’s also good for you. I found that out after tidying up an area near my home – I felt like I’d helped others in a small way. That’s a nice feeling.
In the challenge’s group Slack channel, there were plenty of participants posting pictures of their efforts. Fabio, for example, talked about the sense of achievement he felt after cleaning up his local park:
There’s a public park near home where I usually go run. Today, instead of running, I walked a lap with a bag collecting trash. The park is pretty tidy, but, in the lap (and in my way from home), I managed to spot and pick up some candy wraps, plastic bags, 3 bottles (plastic and glass) and other random stuff. It felt good to give something back to the park. A random guy saw what I was doing and praised my initiative, which also felt good
The Stoics talked about how we’re all interconnected and have the same nature. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “What injures the hive injures the bee.” (Meditations 6.54)
We should help each other as much as we can, and starting small is a perfectly acceptable way to do that. One good act often inspires another, so if I lift trash one day, someone else might do it the next, and so on. Suddenly a big positive has developed from a small one.