In our office at Cerebra there is a sink. One of the shiny silver ones. Unlike most offices, our kitchen is in the open, not hidden behind a door, and is often the social hub of our little space. So it’s important that it stays clean.

Unfortunately, it never does. It starts off clean, mind you. But then I glance over and there’s a couple of spoons and a peanut buttered fork and a bowl. Moments later there are six mugs and a plate with chicken juice and fat on it. Left alone, it’s a grimy, mould-infested cesspool.

The strange thing is, I don’t work with idiotic, careless people. I pretty much like and in many cases love so many of the people I work with. So I don’t think they’re dodgy luddites who enjoy squalor. And yet, given half a chance, our shiny centre-piece of a kitchen turns into a dump in a heartbeat.

So what makes mostly good, mostly neat, mostly considerate people accept an absolute heap?

I figured it out this morning.

It takes one teaspoon. One effing, dirty teaspoon.

A shiny, sparkling sink doesn’t get messed up. But the moment one person is lazy – the moment one person puts their own wellbeing before the needs of everyone else – that shiny sink is headed one way. We have an agreement to prevent this, encouraging our staff to place dirty dishes under the sink in the cupboard until our cleaner gets in. But that requires effort. That requires putting the whole team before me.

When someone puts a spoon in the sink, it’s not longer shiny and perfect. It’s not longer clean. Then it’s exponentially easier to add your spoon, bowl, plate, chicken frikkin’ bone or whatever without feeling guilty, because:

  • “Someone else did it first”
  • “I’m not the only one”
  • “A spoon is not nearly as bad a mug”

I’ve realised no sensible person in their right minds puts a chicken carcass in a clean sink. But they will if it’s already full of shit. It’s not long after someone innocently pops a teaspoon in, that a carcass follows.

The problem with our country lies not in the carcasses in the sink, but the individuals who think it’s ok to drop a dirty teaspoon in. It’s in the laziness of the few. Those of us who are considered ourselves privileged, hang around at braais, drink nice wine, comment on sport and the government and the economy and how bad everything is looking. How we don’t feel safe. How it’s all going to the dogs. And then we go home and cheat on our taxes, treat our staff badly, skip a red robot, speed down the freeway, treat other human being as lesser creatures.

Get rid of the teaspoons in the sink, and nobody would dare put a carcass there.