My friend Kanyi came visiting over the weekend and asked to use the toilet. He took rather too long to return to the living room and so I went to check on him to see if he was alright. I found him at our toilet door, fascinated by our ‘toilet rules’ pasted there. So fascinated was he that he stood there internalizing each one, pondering over each and taking photos of the guide. On enquiry, he shared that he needed this kind of structure and order in his house. He lives with his brother and cousin, both young men and their toilet etiquette he said was quite quite wanting. He was feeling especially pressured because his niece – a lovely little 3 year old girl – was currently visiting and because girls ‘sit’ on the toilet, he was finding the need to run ahead of her each time to ensure the toilet was clean so that she didn’t come into contact with adult pee either by sitting on a soiled toilet seat or stepping on pee droplets on the floor. All his efforts to talk to the young men in his house had yielded no results.
We then had a very detailed discussion on what could be done to remedy the situation. “Old habits die hard” it is said. It is also said that “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks”. Another more cultural version says “You need to bend the fish while it is still wet”. All these wise sayings pointing at the need for us to instill values in our children whilst they are still young to ensure they carry these into their youth, young adulthood, parenting and till death do us part. This is not to say that uncorrected wrongs will remain so for life. It is only that trying to train people already set in their ways requires that much more effort, diligence, follow up and goodwill from the people being trained.
To instill the values of selflessness and caring for others is best done as early in life as possible. Essentially good toilet etiquette revolves around this virtue, for it dictates that one cares for their environment, health and safety, and the welfare and wellbeing of others. In a more spiritual context, it is anchored on ‘doing unto others as one would like to be done unto’. If this would be life’s mantra from an early age going forwards, the need to undo bad toilet manners would be a rumour. Very often in public spaces, toilet etiquette is so bad with users not caring about their use, or is it misuse of toilet facilities to the extent that a permanent resident toilet cleaner needs to be in place to ensure sanity. Imagine with me a world where everyone uses the toilet well and leaves it in a decent state for the next person coming in………………….life would be great wouldn’t it?
So back to Kanyi’s dilemma………… We strategized and concluded that the best way to turn around his toilet woes, was to have the two young men in the house sit and write out the toilet rules on a manila paper and stick it up on their toilet door like ours. Doing it themselves we felt would have them ‘own’ the project. We also concluded that instead of Kanyi harping on and on about what they should do, it may be more productive to tell them about the risk they posed to the visiting child and the poor role models they were being so far. We felt this may appeal to their sense of duty and have them strive to change. Finally, we decided that a ‘brother’s keeper/name and shame’ system may also yield fruit, where everyone going into the toilet and finding it messy, to find out who was there before and ask them to come back in and fix it. This way no one would want to be in the list of shame and would hopefully be inspired to clean up after themselves.
It’s been a week since this project kicked off and I need to look for Kanyi to find out how it’s all going. It is my hope that the small efforts will yield fruit and become habit. For what is it that is said? That it takes 21 days of regular repetition of an activity to make it a habit? This would therefore be about day 7 or 8 with about thirteen or so more days to go.
It was also quite a wakeup call for me to make a special effort to affirm the residents of my homestead and especially the younger ones for their efforts to amp up their toilet etiquette and not take for granted the wins we’ve made. Many times it takes an outsider to come in and appreciate things that you take for granted and consider normal doesn’t it?