A little known fact: I run whenever I can, which is a LOT. Five days a week, usually. I often run at my local park just down the street; it's a nice loop for speed work with quick access to the hills should I feel inclined to crush it and run sprints (which only happens after quite a bit of caffeine). Because this park is so nice, there's always a crowd. With crowds comes clutter and debris; I think it's a universal law of humanity at this point. We're such messy creatures. But I love my park. I always have. I've loved this particular park since moving to Salt Lake at 15 and now that I live so close, I feel a fond mix of gratitude and responsibility. And so while I'm out on my runs, I'll swerve to pick up trash. I'll do a little half-stoop jog while I snag the remnants that were blown into my path, and eventually find a can for them.
To be honest, I'm not sure why. There are people who get paid to do this. This trash isn't even mine. No one has assigned me this job and I'm sure that if I added up all the seconds it takes to stop and do this, it would equate to a significant amount of effort. I should be grumpier about it. But the funny thing is this: I'm not. I consider it part of myself. It's just something I do.
In recent months (or years), I've come under criticism for responding to internet trolls and negative or hateful comments, both about me and not. Unlike my trash gathering on my runs, I've always viewed this as a negative habit I just cannot seem to quit, but as of late, I'm realizing that it comes from the same place as my desire to make sure my park is clean: my heart.
See, I don't fancy myself a savior (despite some claims that I do), but I have realized that part of being a good human is knowing that even if something 'isn't my job', sometimes there is no one else that is going to clean it up. Sometimes there is and they've been there before me. Sometimes there are other trash-elves out at the same time I am and together, we manage to put quite a dent in the refuse that litters our community. It's a powerful effect. One that I would hope random passerby would see and be inspired to do a little tidying of their own. But unlike my runs, the Internet usually shouts at me when I address the virtual trash problem. My attempts to put the nonsense cruelty in the bin are met with condemnation, disgust and ridicule. "Why do you even bother?" "You're wasting your time refuting these comments." "Why do you care?!" "Fuck off!" "Get a life."
But I still do it. It's a major part of why a lot of people really detest me, this habit. But the thing is this: we invest our time into the things we truly care about. And for me, I obviously care about cleaning up my community, both online and off. The environment and atmosphere of both my park and my MTB forums matter to me. I believe that everyone should be welcomed without the blight of unseemly clutter and that, if we all pick up a few pieces of trash here and there, there's a good chance that others will take notice and clean up more of the mess. Call me idealistic, but that's how we get cleaner communities.
And yes, I know that these comments will never end as the Internet seems to give birth to more trolls in one day than a lifetime marriage between Darth Vader and Dovregubben would, but trash doesn't just disappear. We have to put out more bins. Set the bar of expectation. And if those of us in the online MTB community refuse to tolerate the trash, I truly believe that it will act like a virtual littering fine. If we speak up and say "Excuse me, but no. That won't fly here", I honestly think that our community will be better off.
And that's something that IS worth our time when we step back and look at the larger picture.
Call me crazy, but I'm just cleaning up the trash.