Friday, August 31, 2012


There is a cartoon in a recent New Yorker that has two dogs speaking to one another as their owners are using plastic bags to pick up after them. One dog says to the other, “I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel special.” It should! Right before our eyes the habits of Americans across the country have embraced a change that is remarkable. They walk their dogs, carry plastic bags, and when the dog does its business they gingerly pick up the feces depositing the bag in the trash when they return home or leave it in a trash can on the walk back.

This is behavior that seems to cut across social strata. The young do it; the old do it. I have seen men and women bending over to pick up poop. Blacks do it. Whites do it. Latinos do it. There are signs of course that ask you to pick up after your dog and I am sure there are some laws that are on the books that make it a crime not to do so.  I have, however, not heard of anyone being called a scofflaw for his or her failure

This change in behavior seems to have swept the nation without much attention being paid. There are no warnings on dog food cans or bags that remind us that used dog food should be recycled or you may step in it. There has been no public relations blitz, no plethora of bumper stickers, no demonizing of those who choose not to carry plastic bags. And apparently there are few who have given up dogs because of the expectation that they clean up after them.

The sea change in tobacco use has taken more than a half century since the Surgeon General said it was dangerous for health and he had facts and figures to back up the claim.  Congress has passed laws about discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation and push back continues.  The Supreme Court will hear arguments about affirmative action in college admissions this fall.
Maybe there is a secret thread of resentment coursing through the country that I have missed. It could be that this is the key to the Tea Party.  People who talk about “taking back our country” are really angry because they have been forced by a rising tide of opinion to bend over and pick up dog poop. Enough is enough!

I am speculating of course. Maybe the wave of clean is what people hope would happen with issues like discrimination  and seatbelts. Let the tide of behavioral change rise as does competition and there will be fewer smokers, less opposition to buckling up, less resentment to being told how to behave.
Or maybe we love dogs more than we love our neighbors, our families and humankind in the aggregate.

There is resentment to policies that make jobs one could once count on more competitive and over the course of my career I have felt the impact of a broader competitive pool more than once. We have all been challenged to change our ways of thinking about leadership, about how work is done and about how our experiences shape us in the work we do. Learning to be part of a more diverse work force has to be easier than learning to bend over and pick up warm feces. And, over the course of human history, which practice has had the greater social return?

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute