Leave it better than you found it

It was late and cold, and by that point, I really just wanted to be home on this particular Friday night in October. Instead, I was standing in the field adjacent to the high school football stadium, waiting for my daughter and her fellow band members to finish loading their instruments and uniforms into the band truck. As I saw the final carts rolled onto the vehicle, I expected the band director, an energetic, disciplined young man, enjoying the first few months of his newly minted college degree, to dismiss the group for the evening. Instead, he gathered the kids around him, and then surprisingly dispatched them into the area around the parking lot with the instructions, “Let’s leave this place better than we found it.” The teenagers happily (really, they actually seemed happy) fanned out into the field and returned with their arms full of empty pizza boxes, tattered candy wrappers and half full bottles of Gatorade. They were carrying trash that they didn’t create – garbage that had been carelessly left behind by others who had enjoyed the night’s activities.

Leave it better #2 - 2015-03-05Let’s leave this place better than we found it. I realized that those nine words communicated many of the ideals that I hope to instill in my daughter: respect, service and commitment to something larger than self. Imagine if each of us began every day with that goal in mind. At work, at school, in our communities, our homes, within our groups and families, if we each made the promise, in any way large or small, to leave this place better than we found it.

It’s easy to begin to generate a list of professionals who focus on improving people and situations – folks in the medical field, educators, architects, highway crews, just to name a few. Their “improvements” are often large, measurable and easy to see. But sometimes, the opportunities we have to improve something are more like a nudge than a big transformation. A remarkable teenager, Anne Frank, born generations before my daughter and her band friends, wrote in her diary, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” How wonderful indeed.

Seek Excellence Logo - blogIf you’re looking for a little inspiration and a lot of solid, research-based information to help improve your world, be sure to check out the educational programs and resources offered by OSU Extension’s Community Development professionals at comdev.osu.edu/programs/leadership-development/seek-excellence. We are eager to work with your community, group or business to help you discover ways that you can leave your world better than you found it.

(Submitted by Becky Nesbitt, Assistant Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio Valley EERA)

2 thoughts on “Leave it better than you found it

  1. As I have worked with youth for the last 5 decades this has been one of my strongly held principles. Such a tribute to the band director. We can all teach citizenship to youth no matter what discipline we specialize in.

    • My grandfather was once observed adding coins to the parking meter just as he was about to pull OUT. When asked about this, he replied, “When I arrived, there were already 5 minutes on the meter; now there are 30. I always think you should leave a place better than you found it.”
      To this day I often add time to a meter upon dedparture, but in many many more instances, I make an improvement such as the band did in the parking lot, every time looking heavenward and intoning, “Thanks for the example, Grandpa.”

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