Musings — 2018-06-06

by shwolff

Who cleans in a shared or public setting? Whose responsibility is it? Does hiring someone to clean absolve others of their responsibility to do so?

I debated these questions with some colleagues. One position, to apply both simplification and straw-man, was that we pay people to clean (janitors at work, maids at home). It’s literally their job. Those who aren’t paid to clean have no responsibility to do so and should focus their time and energy on other tasks.

This point of view did not sit well with me, for the following reasons.

Community. Even the most specialized of labor contributes to a common goal. Indeed, specialization can only exist because of community. Specialization has its benefits, but to shoehorn people into too specialized a role introduces unnecessary inefficiency for the entire community or team.

An example: My college choir gave a concert in Germany. After assessing the acoustics, our conductor asked the tech team to move the risers a few centimeters toward the audience. “We’re sorry,” the team replied. “We’re the setup team, not the adjustment team. You’ll have to wait an hour for the adjustment team to arrive.” Our shared goal was to stage an excellent concert. Specializing to the point of refusing to do another specialist’s task obstructed that goal.

Respect. Someone drops trash on the floor and walks away. “I pay the janitor to clean that trash up.” No, you pay the janitor to keep things clean. They have enough to do without you artificially increasing their workload.

At the end of the day, most cases of people leaving a mess for others to deal with comes down to respect. The person leaving the mess values their time and comfort more than the time and comfort of others. “I don’t have time to clean it up. I have more important things to do. I don’t want to crawl under the table to pick it up. The janitor can do that.”

Conclusion. I’m not asking you to use your toothbrush to clean up after someone else’s bad aim. I’m just asking you to clean up after yourself. Encourage others to do the same. It shows respect for those who clean up after others, and it furthers community relationships and goals.

If you decide to spend the last five minutes of your lunch break someday cleaning the shared microwave or fridge, heart points for you ❤