Broken Windows-Home Edition

If you lived in New York City during the 80’s, you will vividly remember the high crime rate, the dirty and dangerous subway, and other challenges to the city’s quality of life. During that time, the above picture was common throughout much of the city.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell attempts to explain how movements and ideas become epidemic. One of three rules is the power of context, which states that human behavior is strongly influenced by its surrounding environment. This intuitively makes sense. He uses the example of the “broken windows” to illustrate the sudden and vast drop in crime in New York City. Here is the argument: Imagine an unoccupied house with no broken windows. This house will remain untouched for a long time. As soon as one window is broken–and it is not quickly repaired–its presence invites others to break other windows. Soon after, other forms of vandalism follow.  In other words, the lack of concern for the first broken window unconsciously gives others the idea that they too can break windows. Gladwell argues that beginning in 1990 (and heightened in 1993 with the election of Mayor Guilliani and Police Commissioner Safir) New York City police cracked down on smaller, seemingly trivial crimes, such as fee-hopping and graffiti. The zero tolerance policy on such minimal crimes led to an ubiquitous fall in crime. They fixed the problems quickly, and created a space that others also wanted to keep looking nice.

In my bedroom, I have sliding closet doors. For the past few months, these doors have not worked properly. They have fallen off their sliding track numerous times. They frustrated me! They bothered me to the point that I stopped using my closet.

My shoes were left wherever I took them off because I did not want to wrestle with the door. My work clothes were strewn throughout my bedroom because I did not want to tackle the door. Those doors!

The other morning, I decided enough is enough and I fixed the sliding door problem. I hammered and banged them permanently into their track and made them fulfill their purpose. Since then, my bedroom has a new tone and feel. I can easily place my clothes on hangers and hang them up in the closet because I no longer have to squeeze my body in the tiny crevice that the jammed, ajar door made. I look forward to relaxing in my room, choosing to read in there for the first time in months, because shoes, clothes, and other clothing are no long in the way.

What is the “broken window” in your life? I suggest that you fix it quickly in order to eliminate all of its unwelcome additions.


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