Saturday, June 15, 2024

‘Not In My Back Yard!’

In life, we experience inevitable frustrations, particularly in our relationships with other people. Every now and again, I come across complete strangers who appear to want to dump the accumulation of their life’s disappointments and aggravations onto me.

It’s times like these that I find it helpful to remember the words of positive psychologist, David Pollay, who explains in his book, The Law of the Garbage Truck,’ that: “Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you. So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Believe me, you’ll be happier!”

Perhaps you come across many garbage trucks on a weekly basis. When you do, do you allow them to dump on you, and take it personally; or do you follow the sound advice to send them a silent blessing and carry on with your day? I’m reluctant to admit that every now and again, I catch myself fretting over garbage trucks long after they have moved on to their next, unsuspecting prey.

Sometimes, we may also behave like garbage trucks. We store up past hurts and when they become overwhelming, we take them out on someone less powerfulÔÇô our subordinates at work, our spouse, or our children. When we do this, while we may experience momentary satisfaction, we will revert back to our state of pain. That’s why it’s wise to learn how to let go of disappointments permanently, in a way that doesn’t hurt people around us.

One simple way to do this is, to persistently let go of past wrongs. When we take hurtful incidents from the past and play them over and over again in our minds, we become bitter and resentful. It’s the stuff garbage trucks are made of.

Become more aware of your feelings. When you’re unhappy, there’s undoubtedly an unhappy thought in your mind. Without judgement, replace it with a better feeling thought. It sounds difficult, but with practice, it can be done!

Unless we do this, we risk becoming like the Pelicano, the famous ship that was turned away from various ports in different countries, because it was loaded with millions of pounds of municipal and industrial waste. When the Pelicano was banned by the Bahamian government from dumping the waste in their territory, the ship wandered the Caribbean for a further 18 months looking for a place to dump it. It went to West Africa, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It was turned away from ports in at least 11 countries, as well as Philadelphia itself, where the waste originated!

The owners of the Pelicano, bereft of the quick profit they were seeking in undertaking to dump the waste, tried changing the ship’s name. It went from being the Khian Sea, to the Felicia; and eventually, the Pelicano, but this didn’t mask the ship’s true identity. Everybody knew it as the ship loaded with toxic waste. Changing the ship’s name didn’t change its contents.

In November 1988, more than two years after it left Philadelphia, the Pelicano dumped thousands of tonnes of waste off the coast of Haiti, claiming it was “topsoil fertiliser.” The rest of it ‘disappeared’ on the way from Singapore to Sri Lanka in November 1988. Later, the crew later admitted to dumping the remaining waste into the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The unhappy people troubling you are not too unlike the Pelicano. They’re looking to dump their toxic waste somewhere, rather than go to the trouble of dealing with it in a harmless way.

You may have a terrible boss, who’s unhappy at home or feeling the pressure at work, who is dumping their waste on you and making you feel like you’re the cause of all their problems. Or it could be your family; many times, when we don’t do what other people want because we know it’s wrong for us, they make us feel guilty. When we allow that, we’ve just accepted millions of tons of toxic waste to land at our port. And we wonder how we become so messed up and bitter.

When you come across a garbage truck, or Pelicano, in your life, take the advice: Don’t take it personally. Refuse to internalise other people’s problems or frustrations. Bless them; and look for things to feel good about.

Also, reflect on your own life. In what ways might you resemble the Pelicano? Some of us move from city to city, job to job, and relationship to relationship, looking for a place to dump our garbage. And when we find an unwitting victim, we gladly dump on them; and try to convince them that they’re the problem!

If you’re carrying around useless waste, you can see it reflected in the circumstances of your life. Are you being turned away from other people’s ports? Are you failing to score that all-important job, or relationship; and are you constantly in conflict with other people?

It doesn’t matter what name you call your toxic waste ÔÇô bitterness or hurt; jealousy or disappointment ÔÇô we cannot turn our mental garbage into “topsoil fertiliser.” We need to transform it, by renewing our minds.

Romans 12:2 reminds us: “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Don’t allow mean people to change your goodness. Renew your mind with positive thoughts.

Starting this week, adopt a strict N.I.M.B.Y. philosophy: Not In My Back Yard! Let people deal with their own garbage. Remember: how people treat you is their problem. How you react is yours.

Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology; and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. To find out more please contact [email protected] or


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