Tragedy of the Commons as Seen on the College Campus

The tragedy of the commons takes an odd stride on the campus of my college. Looking from the outside, it would seem that the tragedy has not been able to find its way into the lives of the students. When one looks from the inside, however, a much different view can be found.

Walking down the “mall”, the main walkway through campus, one can see the cleanliness of campus. If there is a plastic bag floating around, those nearest race to pick it up and throw it into the nearest trash can. There is absolutely no litter anywhere outside. That might be because custodians clean the place so frequently so that it looks the way it does, but since I have never seen anyone cleaning the cobblestones professionally, I can say that that is not the case. There just isn’t a single piece of trash on the main thoroughfare of Creighton University.

Walking into the living areas, the places that the students frequent, away from the prying eyes of adults, there comes a different story entirely. The same childish games from high school of “this is not my trash” come alive the moment the doors to the outside world swing shut. These areas become the cavern of a great depiction of the tragedy of the commons. Trash becomes strewn about and toilets go unflushed.

Could this be because people do not care about their surroundings? Obviously not because their behavior is the exact opposite in more public places. The reason as I see it is the extreme laziness of those not cleaning up after themselves is brought on by the realization that their bathroom and common area gets cleaned by others three times a day. If their mess is always cleaned up right after they make it, they rationalize, then why should they lift a finger to help?

The fix for this would be to eliminate all external help in cleaning up the mess, but the same problem would persist, at least for some time, and those from the student body that take to cleaning up their messes would be the ones that would have cleaned up before. Both outside and in, no matter whether it be in private or public.

So the tragedy of the commons stays, haunting those that care for their surroundings and justifying the actions of those that don’t. The concept has become a way of allowing disrespect and the dissolving of integrity because we are “all just human”. but should we not every day strive to be better, to be more than “just human”? We should all look at ourselves and instead of making up concepts to give right to the idea of humans as a faltering species, we should strive towards perfection, and though it might not ever be fully obtained, it would be one giant step in the right direction.

Sun shining through a tree on the “mall” – a walkway leading through the middle of campus.

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