At least once a month my wife and I participate in a service project with our church. One particular weekend we took on an assignment to help “beautify” (aka, picking up trash) a short 0.8 mile stretch of Lakewood, OH.
As I made my way down the sidewalk I quickly noticed a few things:
- People throw more junk on the ground than you think. Seriously, take a close look around for 10 minutes. Just count the cigarette butts in a 4×4 square foot area. They’ll account for more than half of the trash.
- Kids will do anything (including pick up trash) if it means being like the “big kids.”
- More people are watching than you think, and will often follow your lead if you’re doing the right thing.
- Many other people will avoid you when you’re doing the dirty work we should all be doing. I think guilt makes them look away and avoid eye contact.
- It’s impossible to clean up a giant mess in one afternoon.
But the most important thing I took from that afternoon didn’t have to do with trash at all.
When we willingly get our hands dirty, we usually learn something.
Getting our hands dirty can have a variety of meaning depending on the individual and context, of course.
Within our organizations
It could mean investing real time in our people so they continue to take steps toward their potential. It will require hours each month, perhaps each week. Our time and energy is limited so this is tough.
But each time we invest in a person we learn, they learn, and we both grow. We broaden our understanding of human nature. We’re more equipped to lead people. We learn more about ourselves.
In our homes
It could mean having a tough conversation with a loved one where honesty is the only way to freedom. Admitting fault or addressing our baggage is never fun. It’s painful and usually takes longer than we want it to.
But these conversations are necessary to make relationships work. Real love is humble and honest. Old wounds can be repaired, but it starts with the courage to face our dirt.
It could mean doing the difficult and often painful work to create the thing that has been bubbling up inside us for years. The thing that no one has ever seen before. The thing that only we could do.
These days it’s the social norm to repress any creative or weird idea and just do what’s expected. This is boring, and it’s wrong. If you have an idea, go for it. It may be terrible and it will probably fail (I’m not being cynical, it’s just reality), but at least you won’t regret not trying. You’ll learn something and you’ll have more confidence to try again. The next time will be better. Trust me on this one.
And finally “getting our hands dirty” could literally mean picking up trash for an afternoon so we can better understand the state of our communities.
Whatever it means to you, have the courage to do it. You’ll be glad you did and you just might learn something.
Question: What ways could you get your hands dirty this week and learn something?