One of the more irritating tasks that it has fallen upon me to oversee is the whole matter of the students’ cleaning responsibilities. As someone who is not a neat freak, or even remotely fussy about cleanliness as a normal rule, it is amusing in a very ironic way to have to oversee the efforts of students to keep the campus clean. Through frequent inspections from Fran, a Swiss lady who is a very skilled hand at cleaning herself, and who owns a cleaning firm in Chiang Mai, at least some of the students are gaining a bit of a lesson in cleaning.
One of the more frustrating habits that many students fall into is only sweeping the floors and the sidewalks, making the common easy-to-see byways nice. All that is well and good, but does not even come close to cleaning properly. In the tropics, and especially in places where houses are much more “open,” geckos and spiders enjoy living in all kinds of oddball places. They enjoy the corners of ceilings, the areas around light fixtures, and even under the seats of chairs. If one is merely looking at the places where one is walking, spiders and geckos and other little creatures will find plenty of places to hide in out of the way places where no one bothers to look or clean. There is a good moral lesson in here somewhere about the hidden cracks and crevices of our own minds.
One of the other (very revealing) lessons about cleaning is that one starts from the top and works your way down. First you clean off the ceiling, the lintel pieces, the corners, and the cobwebs and dust from the tops of desks and bureaus will make the floor look dirtier at first. Sweeping in the hidden corners and bringing the dirt and dust and cobwebs from those areas into the floor will at first make the room seem dirtier. Then one can sweep the floor clean, knowing that one has taken care of everything else. Only then is a room really clean.
This sort of analogy works very well to a lot of cleaning. When one is first cleaning internally, at first things seem a lot more messy because what was in a forgotten corner or neglected part of one’s self or life is brought into the light, where it seems to be messier than before. But things will often look worse (and maybe even feel worse) long before they start to look, feel, or be “clean.” Such is the life. This is true in nations and organizations as well. One needs to start cleaning from the top down, bringing the dark corners into the harsh light of day, and then dealing with it openly. Things will look worse long before they ever get better, but you have to be willing to do what it takes to really clean up corrupt nations and institutions not merely tidy them up and make them look clean.
Not surprisingly, this precise point is made in the Bible. In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus gives the following parable: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits mor ewicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
Clearly, if in any way that message refers to us now, we ought to be sobered and deeply troubled by its implications. If all we do is tidy up our lives or our homes to make them look nice, and do not undertake the serious and deep changes that are necessary, the last state will be worse than the beginning when we had a dirty home (or life). It is not merely enough to be tidy, to look good, but one must be clean inside and out. That’s not an easy task at all.