The Problem With South Africa Is A Dirty Teaspoon

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.


  • Adrian Schofield

    Post a notice at the sink – “If you did not bring your mother to work, do not expect others to clean up after you”

  • Aasia Fredericks

    This! I am actually sending this to everyone in my office. Thanks Mike.

  • David Greenway

    In the same way Rudy Giuliani’s first act in dealing with crime in New York was to get police to crack down on so called ‘Minor Infractions’ like jaywalking. Once the populations realises that minor offences will not be tolerated, society changes and more serious offences become less tolerated as well.

  • Hayley

    Oh my word, this is more than brilliant. You should publish it and it should hang next to the posters of employment act and basics conditions of work act, in every workplace.

  • Erik Vermeulen

    Great thinking dude.

  • Chris Berens

    Hmmm, I hadn’t actually thought there was a problem with our country. Don’t sweat the small stuff dude

  • Bettina Horvath

    Nail on the head. 100% with you. It’s exactly that. We gotta start cleaning up our own dirt bit by bit, as a matter of urgency….. take responsibility (why don’t they teach how to do that at school?)

  • Kevin Patrick Taylor

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that people rationalize their bad behavior by telling themselves ‘everyone does it’ For things to change it requires not only for people to be more disciplined but for structures to be less willing to accept poor conduct. You mentioned speeding down the Freeway, well if the person was pulled over by a traffic cop the likelihood is that you could simply pay a bribe and leave without suffering any real consequences other than a bruised ego and a lighter wallet. Until people realize there are consequences for their actions nothing will change, we sadly can’t rely on the charity of the human spirit as it is in short supply these days.

  • Andrew Smith

    I agreed whole-heartedly until the last part when you said it’s up to us to stop speeding and cheating on taxes. While you and I should obviously do those things, I don’t believe that we will solve the broader problems of our country from the bottom up. We need to vote for leaders who will stop leaving their dirty spoons (or worse), and that will filter down to the whole population.

    Parents, coaches, CEO’s, captains – everywhere else in life the tone is set by the top, and the rest follow, and the same applies for a country.

  • Rohland

    Or otherwise known as the “broken windows theory”.

  • Clive Simpkins

    Orwellian – but maybe a CCTV cam in roof-corner of said cucina? ;-)

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