Who’s Going To Clean Up This Mess?

by | Community Building, Resources, Teamwork


John Miller, author of QBQ! The Question Behind The Question, ends his book with a story about driving down a highway on a windy Sunday afternoon with his family. For brevity I’ll paraphrase his words…

Driving by, they notice a man in a wheelchair along the side of the highway as the man dives out of his chair to land on a sea of newspapers being blown across a field by the wind. The man was obviously trying to gather them up. Miller stopped their car and his family members raced out to help – chasing down papers and bringing them back to the man who was sitting on the ground on one hip. When asked what happened the man explained that he had driven his truck down the highway to his home but when he arrived there he noticed that a bundle of newspapers in the bed of his truck was gone. He retraced his route and found where they had blown out and scattered across the field.

Obviously thinking of the man’s limited use of his legs, Miller asked, “And you were going to pick them all up by yourself?” To which the man replied, “I couldn’t just leave them. It was my mess.”

Miller uses the story as a final illustration of the message he hopes to convey through his book. Like the man in the wheelchair, be personally accountable. That is his primary message. If you ‘make a mess’, take responsibility, no matter how difficult, and ‘clean it up’. But there is more.

Some of us might be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the general ‘mess’ of the world today, or look at our own country and say “What a mess!”. We have in many respects become a people divided, pointing fingers at each other as we announce the ‘mess’ that we see – intent on finding someone to blame for it. Our questions are “Who is responsible for this?” “Why don’t they do something?” “When are these people going to do what we pay them to do?” And the only response is often, “It’s not my job to fix this problem.” Or “I didn’t create it.”

Miller believes that we are asking the wrong questions. Forget about assigning blame. Ask instead, “What can I do to help?” How can I help solve the problem?” Then act. Do something yourself to contribute to ‘fixing the mess’, even if it is not yours. Even if you did not create it.

In the end, how will the ‘problem’ of newspapers blowing across a field be most effectively addressed? By many people pitching in, working together, and gathering them up? Or by standing on the side of the road and shaming the man lying there with, “Did you make this mess?”


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