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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Leave it better than we found it

Anyone who is a parent understands that there are days (weeks, months...insert the timeline appropriate to you) where you feel that you are just talking into the air and your kids just aren’t listening. It doesn’t seem that anything you say or do is connecting. It can be frustrating; you never know if you’re making a difference. It’s not dissimilar to the feelings we can have at work with our students or customers. How much of what we are trying to communicate are they getting? It appears sometimes that they aren’t completely engaged – is our message wasted?

Fortunately, we get reminded every now and again about the impact we can have on those around us.

I’ve been away from home travelling on a 4 day trip. The main way that I get updated on the boys is through text messaging from my wife. Sadly, I miss a lot of the little things – their goofy games and imagination, as well as the dramatic intrigue that tends to develop between two brothers. The other afternoon, I received this message.

`Your son is picking up napkins off all the tables, because `Daddy said to leave it better than we found it.”

One simple text and I melted. I felt pride as I read this message, thrilled that my 5 year old could clearly explain why he was helping to clean up tables in the food court at the shopping mall.

As I think of this, I’m struck by two lessons.

First, we need to always be aware of the influence we can have on other people. Sometimes, our messages can have instant reactions; however, often our communications, actions and words have long standing influences that don’t immediately manifest themselves. Trust that those around you are paying attention to both what you say and what you do.

Second, shouldn’t we always be striving to leave things better than we found them? Why shouldn’t we pick up that napkin someone left behind? Sure, it’s not ‘our job’, but if we have the power to make things better with such a minimal action, why shouldn’t we help out. More than objects, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could leave people feeling better than when we found them through acts of kindness and compassion?

Pure idealism? More than likely.

But when my 5 year old is diligently picking up napkins to leave the food court better than how he found it, I think it’s time to strive for a more idealistic world. Because in that moment, he became the teacher.


  1. As a parent I always say "You are constantly repeating yourself, but if you take a look back you'll realize that WHAT you are repeating has changed many times over"
    Things sink in eventually. It's always worth the repetition.

  2. While you are not physically with your children every day, clearly your influence and spirit is. What a precious boy you have. :-)

  3. Thanks Michelle. I have two fantatic 'teachers'! And like all kids, somedays they show me what I want and other days they teach me what I need to learn.

  4. Some days, with the kids, I'd settle for "leave it as you found it," but perhaps I should be reaching higher. Great story. It's rewarding when the lessons take effect. My youngest finally learned to swim and said he did it because he believed he could and I always told him that if you believe you can do something, you can. Up until then I questioned whether I was just spewing rhetoric. Kids listen...sometimes more closely than we realize. Adults, take note.


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