I don’t like to brag, but I have a huge desk. It is, without question, the largest desk at my workplace. It’s an L-shaped desk, and how it came to be mine, several species down in the workplace food chain, is a long story and unimportant. What is important is that, if I needed to, I could sleep on top of it. With a guest. When the great flood comes, I’ll be able to set sail on the thing. “Welcome aboard the Queen Murray,” I’ll say.( Wait, I don’t want that phrase getting around. Scratch that…)
But, as the saying goes, with great surface comes great clutterability, and the wide open range of my desk tends to fill up with the by-products of my workday: paperclips, pens, batteries, books, restraining orders, headphones, coffee cups, snack containers and various sticky and powdery residues. I look at it sometimes and think I should take a Dustbuster to it, but I like to imagine that this is its natural state, and, as we all know, nature hates a vacuum.
Being a big workplace, we do have a cleaning staff. Once a week or so, Dian comes into our office, straightens up, empties the trash and generally gives the place a critical antiseptic eye. She even cleans the coffeemaker and puts in a clean filter, God love her. Though I’m sure she shakes her head when she sees the balls of paper blowing across the great plains of my desk, she usually leaves it alone. Except for the coffee cups. If I have left one or three sludgy-bottomed coffee cups on my desk, she’ll whisk them away, wash them and store them back with the clean cups. She’ll go so far as to clean the dirty cups that my co-workers and I have carried to the edge of the communal sink and left there.
Let’s stop right there and follow that process: I pick up my coffee cup, make the long expedition around my desk, go to another room and then deposit my dirty cup right next to a water source and supplies of towels and soap.
When my children leave their dishes beside the dishwater, I declare, “Oh, look! We have magic dishwater – invisible to anyone under 20!” Sarcasm is not pretty, but neither are their plates.
I don’t put up with it with my kids, so why do I do it myself?
I suspect that few if any of you reading this have a butler. I bet none of you even knows a single person named “Jeeves,” which is a shame but not the point. In fact, you probably look disdainfully at the so-called 1 percent, though maybe you look wistfully upon the 15 percent because that’s a whole other ball game. I bet you see that pampered life of privilege and think,“If I were rich, I would never expect to be waited on hand and foot, although a silver-plated driveway would be nice.”
However, when something is done for us, it’s startling how quickly we expect other things to be done for us as well. Dian isn’t paid to clean my coffee cups. She does it because she’s kind and probably somewhat appalled. But I’ve come to expect it and I’ve taken advantage of it.
They say that society is only nine meals away from anarchy. It turns out we’re just three dirty coffee cups away from entitlement.
This happens all the time as individuals, in families, in communities, even societies. We’re done a kindness or given a privilege and next thing you know we feel entitled, as if it were a right, even if it we don’t deserve it, and let’s be honest, we usually don’t.
Last week, Dian gave my entire office a spring cleaning, top to bottom. It positively echoes with cleanliness. Thank you, Dian, for your hard work and kindness. I promise to try not to leave my dirty cups lying around anymore, and I promise not to take life’s privileges for granted.
As long as no one takes away my giant desk. I totally deserve that.
A version of this post originally appeared on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.” Click here to listen to the always clean version.