Q: One of my coworkers keeps leaving dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink of our lunchroom. We have a dishwasher, but he never seems to be able to get the dishes into it. I’m sick of picking up after him, but I can’t stand the sight of the dishes after a while. How do I handle this?
A: How about offering him the standard grocery checkout options: Paper or Plastic?
Here are four options, starting with the worst:
1. Resent it. Resentment is a common practice in the workplace. We’re too afraid to deal directly with felt injustices and too small-minded to overlook them. So we simmer with a subtle anger that bubbles up in three ways: COMPLAINT (Has anyone seen Sloppy Sam today?); PAYBACK (Sorry I didn’t get that report you needed, Sam. Maybe tomorrow…), and SELF-PITY (I’m sick of picking up… can’t stand the sight …). Sounds like your current approach. Not fun.
2. Get over it. At the end of your career, will the dirty dish problem rank among your top 10 challenges? You’re dealing with an annoyance, with which life is filled. Granted, it’s the worst type – recurring and certain – but still just a noontime irritation. Unless your office is the lunchroom, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Take a deep breath and offer it up.
3. Depersonalize it. Recommend that a CLEAN UP YOUR OWN DISHES notice be posted at the sink. Courtesy can’t be legislated, but a policy can be enforced. What he didn’t learn from his mother can be required by his employer.
4. Grow through it. Your fear of small conflicts is limiting you as a human being. Unless Sam is prone to fits of rage and violence, why not simply ask him to clean up? Step out of your comfort zone and be forthright. If you make this a habit, you’ll be a healthier and happier co-worker.
You also can grow spiritually. Every irritation in life is an opportunity to grow in virtue. And virtue is the key to happiness and becoming like God (St. Gregory of Nyssa). How he does it, I don’t know. But amazingly, the Lord, in his goodness, perfectly orchestrates life’s difficulties for our benefit – to make us holier. In everything God works for the good with those who love him. (Romans 8:28-29)
So if he doesn’t change, you can. With God’s grace, you can either learn to be at peace with his mess, or clean it up with a smile. The Lord is with you, and he loves a cheerful giver.
In either case you can’t lose.
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (www.spitzercenter.org).