Why Are We So Unreasonable?

Why don’t we care? “Put things back where you found them.” and “Clean up your own mess.’ All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum

As we learn about life we also learn a lot about ourselves. One of the ‘things’ that hooks me is unreasonable behaviour.

At my local gym, it is seen as OK or reasonable behaviour to take equipment out from its place against the wall, use it in the middle of the mat, and then just leave it there. To take weights from the weight stack and to put them in the wrong place (after all, they are numbered one to ten as a clue as to the order in which they need to be placed).

On the streets, it is seen as OK by some to drop litter or to throw it out of the car window.

In the coffee shop, where I am today, to have your coffee, cake, or whatever, and when you have finished to simply leave the cups and wrappings there. Walking past the bins on their way out.

To being served by a shop assistant, barista, receptionist, (or anyone who is in service to you), and to not even acknowledge or notice them, no eye contact, no connection, only seeking what you want.

Some may say we don’t have time, we are too busy, I have other things going on, all of which are excuses actually.

The words of Robert, above, highlight two lessons he feels have helped him in the World and made a difference, and I totally agree with him. We can take the clearing up of our own mess, into far deeper places, and aligns nicely with taking personal responsibility for all that we do.

For example, when connecting with those who serve us, try looking them in the eye when they greet you, ask them how they are today, how is their day going, or appreciating something about them such as a happy face, or in the case of Baristas, the fluid-like dance they have with the coffee machine when making our coffee.

Our kindness, little moments of connection, can and will make all the difference.

We rarely have any idea what is going on in another’s life, and even those closest to them are often surprised when they do something completely different. We are all on our own journey and connecting with another human can make it seem just a little more manageable.


Colin D. Smith
Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

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  1. You had me at Robert Fulghum, Colin. I love his work, and “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is one of my all time favorite reads. I always say that it is the little things that make a difference, so why not take the time to say hello, extend a kind word, share a smile. Life can be challenging enough, so I say pay kindness forward.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts – what you say resonates for sure.

  2. This is a beautiful piece, Colin. I find it so painful to watch people being rude (or not paying any mind) to the people waiting on them. There is a total lack of awareness and connection. It takes a second to make someone’s day with a warm hello or a smile. Seriously, where’s the fire? Thank you for this reminder to put kindness first.

    • Thank you Carol, I love what you have said.

      As you say it takes so little time to notice the other person, even more so those who serve us. What many fail to realise is that in making that connection, saying something positive, has a positive impact on the speaker as well. We all feel good.

      So when I return my coffee cups to the Barista, and they say thank you, we both win. What also happens is that the next time you go in you are remembered and they often remember your preferences too. We build each other up.

      Kindness and caring is what is needed.


  3. Colin —
    Sometimes you just want to stop them and ask “Didn’t your mother teach you anything???”

    A variation on your idea of supporting those who serve us: When I was in product development years ago, I used to ride with the head of sales to find out what customers needed. He always made a point of calling the client or the server by name. Often the servers would look at him with an expression that read “How did you know?” forgetting perhaps that they were wearing a name tag. My wife, also in sales, never misses an opportunity to call a server in any industry by name or to find a way to compliment them truthfully.

    It makes a difference.

    • Thank you Jeff, your words made me smile, yes indeed…didn’t your mother teach you anything.

      Most times, however, I just have my mouth open and look at them!

      Love your story about being in sales, and so true. It does not matter how we know, found out, or whatever, we cared enough to want to know.

      On a sales call with my manager, the only thing I did not do, was to thank the Receptionist on the way out. His reasoning was that you never know who he or she may be…it could, for example, be the CEO’s partner or PA stepping in for a moment. As I got older and hopefully wiser, I realised it was more about being polite and kind.

      In this pandemic we are noticing those who seemed to be invisible before, postman, health workers, shop workers, refuge collectors. I appreciated them being there when we needed them most.


    • Your last paragraph is beautiful, Colin. It takes so little effort to say “Thank you.” I try to include veterans in that last para. Many wear baseball-style caps with their service logo on it. “Thank you for your service.”

  4. I loved your question, Colin, because really, why are we so unreasonable? Why are the norms in so many places that inconsideration is OK? Who sets these norms and how can we change them for the better?

    Has it somehow become aspirational so we signal that we are better than other people by leaving it to somebody else to pick up our garbage? Perish having such lack of self esteem.
    I don’t know the answers, only that the only person I can control is me, and if that inspires somebody else to do likewise, it better be with actions that solve the problem, not contribute more to it.

    Your post made me think whether this is the way people have always behaved, whether it has become worse, or perhaps even better?
    Did cafes use to have service so people behave like they have always done? Only the cafes have changed because they save money that way, and some customers don’t want to play along with that level of self-service? Have we reduced the trash crews along the freeways? Is the increase in beach litter because more people participate in cleaning up more beaches?

    I lived for a while in a town that had a set of gray concrete apartment buildings. The walls were constantly covered in graffiti. At one point the town council decided to have the buildings painted in nice bright colors and the graffiti spraying stopped. People are very astute to what is the local norm when it comes to protecting the commons. Littering is often a response to a feeling that the commons is not protected for them.

    And as for the young generation? (I can show you hieroglyphs lamenting the next generation.) In my experience they are cleaning up the beaches from the effects of a supply-chain system that my generation built. Perhaps we should do more to protect the commons they will soon inherit?

    • Thank you Charlotte for your awesome thinking…all much appreciated.

      Like you I don’t have the answers. All I can do, like you, is take care of my behaviour and hope that this inspires others to do the same.

      Regarding the cafes, it depends. In some, you keep you food and drink on one tray, throughout the meal. and take it to a place for washing as you leave. In others, the waitor/waitress takes them away as part of the service. What I was thinking about was those places where you purchase food at the counter and eat at a table. Here, many just leave it to be cleared up by one of the two serving you coffee/pastries, or by the person who wishes to use your table as you leave. In these cases it feels unreasonable to just leave your mess for someone else to clear up. (More amusing are those who move your ‘mess’ on to a nearby table!)

      Your reference to the younger ones, made me smile, as I have served the younger ones and even early teenagers, clearing their table.

      I am in agreement with you on painting dull, graffity covered building with art work from local people…I have seen similar where I live.


  5. Yes, yes, yes, so beautifully shared, Kimberly, thank you.

    You have taken this to the next level, being in community with one another. Seeing the human being in front of us, a human being just like us, with their needs and wants, wishes and desires, sadnesses and joys, on their journey. When we care enough to notice that, everything changes, as you witnessed.

    I was blessed to be on a workshop with Nic Askew. Part of the time, he has participants sitting in a chair in front of his camera. The camera is connected to a projector, such that it projects a three times life size image of their face. Nic asked us to simply notice what we are seeing…what I noticed with all the faces that came on the screen, in black and white, was one thing, summed up in one word, whatever the person looked like, beautiful.


  6. Oh Colin, this is beautiful and so desperately needed. I think people tend to be in their own bubble and have little or no awareness of the impact that they have on others. Last Friday, my husband and I went to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. They have a huge outdoor garden, which makes it easy to stay 20 feet away from other diners. We’re both trying to learn Spanish, so we practice with the wonderful servers and they joyfully support us in our quest. We always put our masks on when they approach our table out of habit. Last week our server said to me (in Spanish, but I won’t try to write that here!) “You don’t need to put on your mask for me.” And I responded, “Of course we do. We need to protect you from us just as much as we’re grateful you protect us from you.” He looked at me with the saddest eyes and said, “Senora, nobody else feels that way. Thank you.” Our responsibility to one another reaches far past cleaning up after ourselves. It speaks to the basic question, “What does it mean to be in community with one another?” To care about each other.