Contributing Writer
On Nov. 29, Dean Richter sent a picture to all the members of New College House. It was a picture of the house kitchen: nicely cut pasta, carrots, and tomatoes with fresh parsley (using most reliable Japanese inspired chef knives) . Sounds delicious. But they were not supposed to be poured in the sink and clogging everything up. The pasta and vegetables covered the sink with a dirty and wet sponge among them.

Every student who has ever been to his or her house kitchen would know what happened in New College House was not an accident. After Thanksgiving Break, one of the directors of the Writers House also found herself upset by the dirty kitchen left behind by residents.

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The last time I went to Bonchek’s kitchen to meet some friends I also found a dirty sink there. My friends from other houses also have complained to me about their kitchens.

Having a kitchen downstairs makes most of us feel happy and more at home, especially when we want to bake something or when we want to take a break from D-Hall and cook something nice for ourselves on the weekends.

To those of us who make use of our house kitchens, nothing would disgust us more than a dirty sink with greasy plates or a pot filled with oily water and floating shredded vegetables. Beyond disgust, for those of us who carefully clean up every time after we use kitchen, such messiness also makes people angry. It appears unacceptable that some people among us can just take a shortcut and avoid responsibilities.

As Dean Richter sees it, a huge mess starts from small things. One person may leave a knife in butter. It’s just a knife, right? Then the next one may leave a mug; then a plate, a pan, a pot…

“It’s a downward spiral,” Dean Richter said. It all starts from the first person and then, after seeing someone leave things in the kitchen, people would just continue down that slippery slope. At the end, people who come into the kitchen would see a disgusting and messed-up kitchen that eventually can only be cleaned up by the kitchen manager.

This time, things got different in the New College House. Dean Richter managed to find out the students who acted irresponsibly and asked them to do the cleaning up from Friday to Sunday. Dean Richter also said she’d put more supervision on kitchen users; she said she would love to trust students, but unfortunately that trust was lost with dirty sinks.

Can’t people be trusted? Do we have to watch others so that they won’t do harm to the common good? Social scientists have come up with many theories, and most of them assume people are self-interested. But is this assumption correct? Look at the bright side, where people give money to charity, where people volunteer to teach ESL to immigrants, where strangers on the street take others to the hospital in case of a medical emergency.

Sometimes I feel it is pointless to ponder over whether people are intrinsically good or bad; it seems an endless intellectual quest. But I feel there is a huge point, a place where we could start. That place is each one of us. If everyone reading this shows more respect to our common good, tells his/her friends, and then if everyone hearing his/her friend talking about this will cherish kitchen privileges more, things will start to get better.

I believe no matter what we read or what we think or what we believe, the things that would define our environment and ourselves are what we actually say and do. Every time we act irresponsibly we move ourselves closer to the irresponsible end, and every time we act with respect to the others and our common good we move ourselves in the opposite direction. What matters, what determines this, is the very next choice you make. I sincerely hope more and more people could agree with me on that.

Questions? Email Shunqi at

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