Last spring, the trash truck would come by every Friday morning while I was homeschooling my daughter, and we would usually hear the noise and peek out of our high living room windows to see if a visitor had pulled into our driveway. One of the workers noticed and started watching for us and waving to us each week; it seemed to entertain him.
I observed the men loading the smelly garbage into the truck, and began to think about the rain, heat, and cold they worked in throughout the year. I thought how they were frequently in danger from impatient drivers zipping past the garbage truck, stray dogs, glass, chemicals, and the germy refuse that splashed out of the trash cans.
Seeing an opportunity to teach my daughter about compassion for others, I talked to my her about the subject of unappreciated, unpleasant jobs as we watched the truck continue down the street. We decided as a result of our discussion to leave the workers a thank you note the next week.
Our trash can sat by the street on the following Friday with a large piece of bright-yellow posterboard taped to the lid. Written on the posterboard was a letter about how the garbage collectors’ jobs seemed to us to be difficult and usually ignored or unappreciated by most people. We stated that the town would be a disgusting mess without them working hard to gather people’s trash every day and that we wanted them to know we appreciated their efforts.
When we heard the squeaking brakes and roaring engine of the approaching trash truck, things quickly became very cloak-and-dagger at our house. Overcome with embarrassment and fearing the trash workers might think us insane for leaving such an unusual note on our can, we threw the curtains closed and waited. The truck pulled up in front of our house and idled for a long time.
My daughter and I sneaked around to a different window and peeked out to see the friendly waving worker hand the posterboard note to the driver in the front of the truck. Searching the house with his eyes, he proceeded to empty the trash from our can, close the lid, and slowly wheel the can all the way up into our carport before walking back to the truck.
For several months now, that worker has returned the empty trash can into our carport every week. Once, I forgot to set the can out by the street, and he took care of everything for us. Any time he sees us in the yard or looking out a window, he waves and yells hello with a big smile on his face. It seems that our simple gesture of gratitude made quite an impact on the man.
Everyone enjoys being appreciated. Have you ever noticed in your own life that it is easier to work hard at something when you know that someone really appreciates what you’re doing? If no one cares about what you’re doing, or worse, if people continually complain about how you do it, it can make you think about throwing up your hands and quitting, right?
I believe that everyone around us will have a more pleasant day if we make a conscious effort to spread a little joy via appreciation: Rather than complaining every time someone does not do something the way you’d like, try instead to compliment the person when you catch them doing something well. With the example of my garbage collector story, that would mean moving from the attitude of
Ugh! The trash guys left my empty can too close to the street! Hey, man, someone could have run over my can! Why don’t you do your job right?
to an attitude of
I’m glad it’s trash day. Thanks, mister, for working hard for us and for hauling that bag with the stinking, rotten meat off my property! You deserve a bonus!