A lot has been said about the power of small actions. I am by no means discovering anything new.
Living in a huge metropolis though, has made me acutely aware of the very tangible repercussions of small actions.
I could think of so many examples, but I’ll just mention a few to start us off:
The impatient car blocking the intersection.
The pedestrian dropping a banana peel on the floor as they pass a planted tree.
Two hundred pesos given to a cop to get out of a ticket.
“But it’s just one car!"
When you live in a city of millions, that one car will result in city-wide congestion, as each of the surrounding streets is further backed up because cars aren’t able to pass. People in Mexico City lose 227 hours a year in traffic (Ortega). Add to that the increased consumption of gasoline of each car stuck in traffic (Cuyubamba), what you get it one of the most polluted cities in the world populated by millions of people with road rage. No wonder we’re one of the most stressful cities to live in in Latin America (De la Torre). Small actions.
That banana peel doesn’t disintegrate as it touches the ground, it will lie there for several days or weeks, likely inviting more passers by to drop their own garbage into the mix. I recently had the opportunity to visit Japan. One of the first things I noticed was that there were no garbage cans. Not on the streets, not in the metro stations, not anywhere. And yet, I never saw a single piece of trash rolling around the floor. People hang on to their trash and dispose of it properly in their homes where they separate it and place it in special bags, which are then collected by the city on specific days. On the other hand, Mexico City has an unclear stance on garbage cans — you see them in some areas, not in others — but in virtually every neighborhood, trash on the ground is as common as purple jacaranda flowers in the spring: whether on the curb, or surrounding the overflown public garbage can. Our dirty streets are the result of millions of people thinking to themselves, “it’s just one wrapper,” “it’s just one apple core,” “it’s just one cigarette butt.” Small actions.
”It’s one teeny, tiny ticket!”
We may think it’s just one cop, just one ticket, just one time. We might justify our action by pointing out that the sign was hidden by a tree the city hasn’t maintained. We may even claim we are helping them earn a decent living since their salaries are so low (less than 10,000 pesos a month or around $530 USD (Angel)). However we justify it, it is an act of bribery and corruption. That act of bribery multiplied by the 120 million people in the country of which half report to have paid a bribe (Martinez): those measly 200 pesos become 32 billion pesos (1 billion 600 thousand USD) in 2010. Small action no longer. We insist our politicians be squeaky clean, yet numbers prove we’re nowhere near being squeaky clean ourselves. “But what’s 200 pesos compared to the millions they steal?” Sure, the crime does not compare, but aren’t we setting a precedent for ourselves? Aren’t we normalizing corruption?
Whenever the phrase “a culture of corruption” is mentioned, particularly by a politician, there is often loud, appalled backlash from the media and the population. I would urge that we analyze this a bit further. No, I am not claiming that there is something inherently Mexican about corruption, nor something inherently corrupt about being Mexican. No, I do not think it is part of our culture, in the way our food, music, dance, literature, and our particular inclination for double entendres (albures) are. However, there is a normalization of small acts of corruption. Few businesspeople could say they have never been harassed by a public official when everything is seemingly in order with their business. Few drivers could say they have never been prompted to pay a bribe. These small acts, in the millions, become one large part of our society, entrenched in our bureaucracy and everyday transactions. Small actions.
I understand in writing this I may be rubbing some people the wrong way. It is always hurtful to turn the mirror on a part of ourselves we dislike. I don’t expect millions to change their way of life upon reading this. I don’t even expect this text to reach millions. What I do hope, is that these thoughts add themselves to those of others and encourage discussion. What I do hope, is that private discussions around the city turn into public discussions across the country. What I do hope, is that as that discussion grows, change can start to come along. This is my small action, what's yours?
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