I was on my regular afternoon bike ride when I noticed a crowd of people sweeping the walkways. I leaned my bike on a tree and went to the first man and asked “Why do you sweep?”
“I sweep because I resign,” he said to me.“I used to go blue in the face with how dirty these streets were. But it was no use, they paid no attention, and I would go mad each day when upon arriving I would dirty my carpet. I swear I was losing my mind. I would shout and complain and nobody did a damn thing. Finally I resigned to the situation. And I was struck by a notion, that only one thing was within my reach to do, and I got myself this broom and since then I keep my head down and sweep.”
“And what if another walks on your path and muddies it again?”
“Then I sweep.”
I thanked the man and went on to the next one and asked “Why do you sweep?”
“I sweep because someone has to. I always suspected these streets were not as clean as they could be, but none would have it,” he answered, then looked both ways to check if anyone was eavesdropping before adding “downright dirty, actually – and then one day I saw that man over there sweeping. So I got a broom and started sweeping too.” He paused for a moment, tired, then looked at me again with pride: “Look how clean my walkway is!”
Moving on, I asked another group of people, further down the crowd why they swept: “Well, we sweep because it’s proper,” answered one. “We saw those over there doing it, and it seemed like a good enough thing to do to join in. The streets are much cleaner now, don’t you see?”
I walked further into the crowd, some were sweeping more vigorously than others, but even the lazy ones stood with brooms in their hands and talked of how much they loved to sweep, and again I asked one “Why do you sweep?” and he said “We sweep because everyone sweeps. How else do you think these streets would stay so clean?”
And a little further down, I asked again and one said to me simply “We’ve always swept.”
At last I was lost in the crowd completely, I couldn’t make out my bike or the tree in the distance at all. I looked around me and tapped one of the sweeping men on the shoulder. “Why do you sweep?” I asked.
For a moment he looked at me as if I was strange, then he paused, and a look of worry came to his face – it was as if he’d not even realized he had been sweeping all this time! The mere question had snapped him out of a trance.
Then he was struck by a notion.