Posts tagged ‘perspective’

September 17, 2008

dog shit and responsibility

One of the easiest ways for me to start a conversation with the taxi driver is to comment on the weather, which is quite often bad (either too hot or too cold) and at times completely unpredictable (too hot, then suddenly too cold). I always do that with the following sentence (very loosely translated, so it looses the punch it has in Serbian) “Our weather is just like (i.e. as bad as) our country.” They never fail to smile and agree with me, for most people here share the more or less same view:

Serbia is a country where things just don’t work.

It’s a big meme here, really. Whether you’re standing for hours in a long queue, arguing with the clerk at the post office, paying ridiculous amounts for essential every-day food & necessities (a pair of Nike sneakers which is $40 in America is around $160 here) or watching the politicians throwing black-magic-ish curses at their opponents (I’m not kidding), you’re bound to sigh disappointedly and say something like the following: “I’m not surprised in the least; it’s just the sort of thing to expect in a country like Serbia”.

Now there are people who are really struggling to survive, working long hours for minimal wages (the average salary here is officially around 400 euros (a bit more than $600) per month, which in itself is insufficient for anything resembling a  normal life, and in reality a lot of people are working for as low as half of that). I feel that I have no right to say anything about their being frustrated, because I am lucky to be in a way better financial situation than them.

However, what does tick me off is that this meme has become a sort of a national, general excuse for avoiding all kinds of responsibility: “When everything’s falling apart, why should I play fair and, say, not use my connections to enroll my kid in this high-school or university? Or not scream irritably at someone in the queue, because they would also scream at me?” In addition, we almost enjoy looking at ourselves as the victims, as if there’s something cool about living in a country which always seems to be not so much on the verge of breakdown as generally half-broken.

I think the worst part is that we apply the same way of thinking to things which depend almost solely on our own behavior. For instance, recently in parks they’ve put a few containers with recycled paper-bags for scooping your dog’s number two. I’ve rarely seen anyone use it, and I myself never got around to using it. It took a sense of shame, after having some lady on the street criticize me for not picking it up, to get me thinking. Yes, I don’t want to step on a piece of dog shit, or see children catch some disease or something. Yes, I know there’s practically no effort or time required for doing it. But why then haven’t I seen almost anyone use the bags? Ok, so I’ve heard that they are used more often in another park, so whether or not that’s true, let me rephrase the question: Why hadn’t I, the person whose main interests and activities revolve around motivating and teaching people how to basically be better, more responsible persons, started using them?

Thinking about it, I came back to that meme: It’s simply easier to not change your behavior when it seems that no one else is changing their own. And since there’s no law requiring us to clean our dogs’ mess, and thus no fine for misbehavior, there’s even less incentive to try to scoop. If anyone asked me why I’m not scooping, I think that I wouldn’t even try thinking of a good excuse – I’d simply revert to the meme.

This is something which depends solely on one’s personal beliefs and behavior. However, through behaving in a certain way, we also set a new standard toward which others may aspire. From simple things like scooping dog poo we can slowly move toward more complex and difficult ones, and slowly, step by step, we can increase the overall “average level” of responsibility that each one of us has.

So, I decided not to wait for a law, more public shame or something else to influence me to change my behavior. I’ve decided to start cleaning up shit, both my dog’s and my own.  It’s time to put some effort into becoming a more responsible citizen and setting a positive example for other people, because I feel that these things are something that our country desperately needs. Some things are changed by laws and some are a consequence of a strong economy, but, as I said, there are also things which rely solely on our own sense of responsibility. Our country may not be as economically developed or as well-organized as some other countries, but I’ll be damned if our citizens can’t be as personally responsible as theirs.