Punishment or compulsion?
“Shouldn’t you be wearing an orange vest?”
Christopher, who was bent over picking up trash alongside the highway, stood upright and turned to see who was addressing him, “What?”
Two young men were walking down the sidewalk, each with a plastic soda cup and straw in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand. The taller of the two young men snorted then replied, “You’ve obviously been convicted of a crime and have been ordered to perform community service by picking up trash along the highway. You’re supposed to be wearing an orange vest so you can be identified and so that you won’t be run over by traffic. Everyone knows that.”
Christopher, older by at least a few decades than the two young men answered, “I have not been convicted of any crime and I have not been ordered to do community service. I’m picking up trash because I love my fellow humans and I love the planet.”
The two young men began laughing hysterically. The shorter of the two men called out, “Are you some kind of moron or something?”
The taller man threw his cup of soda at Christopher, hitting him in the leg and drenching his pants. The shorter man showed Christopher his middle finger.
Christopher stood still as granite as he watched the two young men continue walking until they were out of view. He then bent down and emptied the remaining liquid and ice out of the soda cup and placed it, along with the plastic lid and straw, into his trash bag. He then continued picking up every teeny tiny piece of trash he could find.
As he did so he thought about what the two young men said. No one was punishing him. He had committed no crime and he certainly was no moron. At least one day a week for the last six and a half years Christopher had picked up trash along highways near his home. They were the cleanest highways in his state. He simply loved doing it. He never once thought of it as a community service.
Five and a half weeks later Christopher was walking to the grocery store to get some cheese. He came upon a police officer walking slowly along the sidewalk in the same direction. Off to the side of the highway were six men wearing orange vests picking up trash.