On Dirty Dishes

“Well begun is half done”
– Greek proverb

Photo credit: David Pecka

I have this theory, it goes a little something like this: People are inherently a-holes when they think no one is looking.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I work in an office. The area that I work in has a small shared break room for our group and another group that works close by. In addition to not requiring us to traipse all the way downstairs to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, it’s main purpose as far as I can tell is a garbage can/dirty dish pile. Meaning, the entire breakroom is a garbage can/dirty dish pile, not just that those are features in the room.

At any given time, you will find a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, coffee grounds on the floor, an empty air pot with no fresh coffee brewing, a full coffee filter dripping all over the counter, and/or wet/dirty paper towels used to wipe the counter down that have not been thrown away. The people I work with are essentially disgusting, and I’m sure I’m not the only office worker who experiences this. What really grills my cheese is the empty coffee pot. There is nothing more disheartening on a Monday morning than interrupting an unending stream of tasks and emails for a warm up, only to hear the pathetic sputter of an empty pot. To be clear, I’m not talking that pre-lunch gray area or afternoon time, at which point it is perfectly acceptable to not brew another pot without knowing if anyone is still drinking coffee.  I’m talking 7 am to 10 am, prime Engineer-Coffee-Drinking-Time. What exactly am I supposed to do without the elixir that fuels my brain train? I make another pot and wait, of course, because (a) I’m not a monster and (b) IT LITERALLY TAKES LESS THAN A MINUTE TO START A POT OF COFFEE BREWING. This is not a big business. No one, our CEO, owners, and managerial staff included, is so busy that they can’t take 30 seconds to help a lady out and not leave an empty pot.

The rub is that the culprit(s) are never found. Any time I have encountered anyone in the break room, they have politely wiped the counter down, rinsed their dishes, and started a fresh pot of coffee if they finished one. And this is what I like to consider a modern-day version of the Tragedy of the Commons, Office Edition. If you are unfamiliar, the Tragedy of the Commons is a real thing (Office Edition, not so much), a term used in social science to describe a situation of shared resources in which individuals act selfishly and contrary to the common good of all the users by basically ruining all of the good stuff that everyone is supposed to share. The classic example is farmers sharing a field to graze cattle. If they all limit themselves to X number of cattle, the field will be able to sustain all of the farmers’ herds. However, each individual farmer decides, independently, that it can’t harm much to add a few more to their herd. The problem is that they all do it, and they can’t keep themselves from adding only a few more. Basically, in the end the field can’t sustain any cattle and they are all screwed because they all wanted to make more money than their neighbors.

To wit, when someone in the office finishes a pot of coffee or makes a mess, if no one is there to see the good deed of taking care of whatever problem they’ve caused, it’s not worth their time to fix it. Ergo, people are inherently a-holes when they think no one is looking. I think this is a pretty common problem in communal microwaves as well; one person blows up their soup and the next person to add to the dripping ceiling doesn’t want to clean up someone else’s mess too, so the filth builds up until that one true hero who doesn’t want last week’s chili/chicken noodle soup/ziti/macaroni and cheese dropping down onto their unsuspecting meatloaf comes along.

The most recent addition to our empty coffee pot and dirty counter is a passive-aggressive sign that someone left for our entertainment. It reads, “Please do not touch or throw away anything that isn’t yours.” I thought about taking a picture of it for you, but I don’t want to be a party to this nonsense. A coworker and I have a pretty good guess as to who left this snarky and childish message for the rest of us, and their name starts with a “T” and rhymes with they left their dirty disposable Chinese takeout container in the sink for five days and are now mad that someone got fed up and threw it out. If that was a photo mug with pictures of your children on it, sure, be mad. Get aggressive. You don’t even need to be passive about it, because throwing out someone’s children is just plain rude. But really? A dirty takeout container? If you want to keep it, maybe find time over the course of the week to wash it and take it home with you. If I was a more immature person, which is not out of the realm of possibilities, I think I’d add some instructions in the empty space on how to wash dishes/be an adult/identify whether this is your own personal sink at home or not.

Even if this was a justifiable offense, no one is going to heed that sign. This is the Commons. The Wild West of our building. Where coffee sows chaos and discord. So long as no one sees them act like a selfish child, grown-ass adults will serve their self-interest, be lazy, and hope someone else cleans up their mess.

Anybody know anything about nanny cams? Asking for a friend…

Quietly Seething

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