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I live in a 29-unit apartment building in downtown Waukesha. The tenants who live here cover a pretty wide swath of the variety possible in the human family. I love our apartment, I love the location, I love the atmosphere of the old building we live in.

What I do not love is that I am noticing a disturbing trend happening here. On several occasions, I’ve noticed bags or boxes of garbage appearing in our hallways. Usually they disappear in a timely fashion — as though just placed outside the door in preparation for removal to the dumpsters outside. That is fine — I’d prefer that the bags containing the refuse of my fellow tenants’ lives be kept within the sanctum of their own living space and not shared with the rest of us, but if they’re taking it right down, it’s not a huge issue.

What is more disturbing is the appearance of several collections of, well, junk in the hallways. This time, another concerned tenant wrote signs that said, “Please take your trash to the dumpster or put it back in your apartment” and placed them on the junk piles. I thought that this was a positive move. The junk piles remained there for two weeks (I was kind of conducting an experiment — I’ve toted other people’s stuff out before). I wanted to see how long these piles would sit there, note attached, before someone did something about it.

Today, I got my answer. On my way out to run errands, I ran into another tenant who said, “Have you seen the stairs?” I said that I hadn’t, and she went on to tell me that it looked as though someone had a temper tantrum.

Someone had taken a box of the junk — containing Christmas decorations — and THROWN it down the stairwell. It covered the entire stairwell, and all of the glass ornaments broke in the fall, leaving behind a shattered mess.

Sighing, I left to complete my errands (time sensitive). I was fuming a little bit. It’s directly against our lease to leave any belongings or trash in the hallways, and moreover, we are required to take out our trash in a timely fashion from our apartments. Um, I find that not only infinitely reasonable, but common sense. I have no desire to live in a pig sty. My mistake was in assuming that I lived among other responsible adults who felt similarly.

When I got home today, I grabbed a bag, and cleaned up the stairwell. My vacuum cleaner cord isn’t long enough, or it would have gotten vacuumed as well. I did not put the box in the hallway. I did not throw it down the stairs like an enraged child. But I live here, and so I cleaned it up, and took it to the dumpster. Because I am not a pig, and I have no desire to live in a piggish environment.

I am fighting the urge to write a strongly worded letter and post it around the builidng, but that seems childish as well. So, I called management to report the broken glass and the circumstances of its origin. I guess that’s the adult thing to do, since I cannot remedy the situation myself.

What’s most disturbing to me is that of the many adults living in this building, none of them had enough care or concern about their own welfare to take the necessary steps to address the issue (I’ve called about it before). No one took out that box when it became evident that its former owner had no intention of doing so. Presumably, no one called management to inform them that someone was breaking the terms of their lease. No one did anything productive.

What someone did do was make a bigger problem, a bigger mess. I’ve worked in service-industry jobs throughout my life, and I’ve seen this time and again in all the possible permutations. People get a bee in their bonnet, plant their flag, and decide that this, right here, is the hill that they want to die on. Most of the time, it’s a bump. It’s so small that it couldn’t even be considered a geographical feature. But they’re hot and they’re gonna let everyone know how outraged they are.

All I have to say to that is: Who cares? Who cares how outraged you are? What I want to know is, now that your flag’s planted and you’ve chosen your stand, what are you going to do about it? Holler? Stand there and bleed?

The box of stuff thrown down the stairwell was someone planting a flag — and worse, doing so passive agressively. It makes me tired. It makes me disheartened that people would choose to make it worse, instead of taking a small and simple step to make it better. It required more effort to throw the box down the stairs with all that anger than it did to just truck it (whole) out to the dumpster.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem — and what makes me tired is all the people standing on their bumps hollering away about all the problems, and doing nothing other than getting in the way of those who’d like to be part of the solution. Grow up, people.

No, a box of trash in the hallway is not the hill I want to die on. I’m saving that stance for when it matters — because when I do plant a flag it will be in a hill, something big — and I’ll do more than stand there and shout about how big it is. I’ll grab a shovel, or a sword, or whatever tool is required, and do something about it. Now, who’s with me?

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)