Grow your ‘altruistic footprint’… it’s the new thing

By Lisa Sugarman

So there’s this scratch on my car. Nothing that’s obvious to anyone but me and certainly not a big deal in the grand scheme of life. (Definitely not worth blowing my auto deductible.) Plus, I’m sure it was just someone’s runaway Stop & Shop carriage anyway. Probably a little nudge sent by karma, to get me back for something I did wrong in the 80s.

But as these innocent little things often do, it got me wondering. (I know, here I go again.)

Consider this: what kind of a world would it be if everyone put their shopping carts back in the little corral? Which, of course, in turn, leads me to wonder the even bigger question: what kind of world would it be if everyone who smoked tossed their cigarette butts in an actual trash can? Or, bigger still, what would Marshalls really be like if everyone rehung everything they knocked off the hanger while they browsed?

This is the stuff that consumes my thoughts at 2 a.m., when I’m wide awake and scribbling notes on my little notepad in the dark.

I know what you’re thinking, I have way too much free time. That, or, I need to up my Ambien script. But I really think, somewhere deep down, you’ve probably asked yourself these same philosophical questions, too. This is existentialism, baby. It’s here that deep thinking starts.

I just can’t help myself; I’m always thinking about ways we can all be better as people and, consequently, as a people. Because if you read my last column then you know that my ultimate reach goal in this life is to solve most of the world’s bigger-ticket problems. Hunger. Poverty. Famine. Stupidity. (Hopefully before I retire so I can enjoy a perfect world while I’m still able to get around).

Honestly, how many times have you wished, secretly, that people would just act for the benefit of other people once in awhile. Because when you think about it, our little Earth could be a dramatically different place if everyone just thought of the other guy once every now and then.

Just imagine a world where each one of us returned our shopping carts to the corral. Think of how many innocent little BMW convertibles would ultimately be spared. Now I know this would have a negative impact on the auto insurance industry, most domestic and foreign auto body shops, and the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters, but I can’t solve everything on the first day. I’m just dealing with the outer layer of the onion here.

This not-taking-responsibility-for-our-own-stuff thing is reaching epic levels. I mean, let’s look, even for a second, at how that applies even just to the whole carbon footprint movement. Think of what we could accomplish if everyone even just did what the little hotel door-hanger sign says and reused our bath towel. Even once per vacation. My God! That alone would probably save President Obama’s Land and Water Conservation Fund from expiring in 2015.

And what if everyone gave a thank-you wave when you stopped to let them cross the street? We’re supposed to, you know. But few people actually do. I know. I’m watching you. Just that alone on a world-wide scale could have a direct impact on the world’s happiness meter. (Which, by the way, is real. The government owns it. They just keep it at Area 51, for deniability.) And what about just saying thanks when someone holds the door for you? Or cleaning your dirty dishes off your café table at Panera before I sit down? Or, dare I say, tossing your McNuggets box in an actual trash can and not out your window on the Pike. You’re making my world look like crap.

Now these are all Standard Rules of Behavior that should be hard-wired into our psyche. Unfortunately, though, too many people are missing the gene. And that’s when I think we as a culture get into collective trouble. That’s when we see our landfills overflowing because people think nothing of littering. And that’s when hotel laundry services strike because the demand for cottony fresh towels exceeds a reasonable limit. This stuff’s real, people. And it needs to be addressed on both a grassroots and a global level.

Because it really is the little things. They’re the ones that count. They’re the most impactful. And when you add them all up, they could legitimately change the world. Both emotionally and physically.

Could you even imagine if we took this whole notion of doing your part for yourself and others to the next level and asked everyone to do even one selfless thing every day? Holy hell! We’d be one exit away from Nirvana. You know what I’m saying here, right? I’m talking about Paying it Forward. Wish I could take credit for the idea, but, sadly, I got trumped on that one. I’m a huge proponent, though. Brilliant. Because, in the end, that’s what I guess I’m really getting at. Just close your eyes and imagine a world where everyone was selfless (I’m thinking big here because this is my dream, so what the hell). We talk a lot about reducing our carbon footprints. Well, I think we ought to be just as conscious of growing our altruistic footprints. But in my version of this Brave New World, though, everything would also be pink.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at OR read her blog at


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