The Rules of Sewage

Some years ago I heard an analogy that resonated with me.  It was a description of learning something – some piece of information about a person’s character – that was so negative, so vile, that no matter what else you knew about that person, you instantly understood the core of the person in question.  There is, in fact, a folk-wisdom saying that illustrates this concept, which I first heard on a talk radio show: “That tells me everything I need to know about him.”  Ironically, the talk radio host from whom I first heard this expression was revealed to have done something I consider so vile that, even before he was taken off the air, I realized that deed (plus his “Yeah, so what?” attitude) told me everything I needed to know about him – and I stopped listening… and having stumbled across his new broadcast home while channel-surfing, I still refuse to listen to him.

Before I dig into this, I want to be clear – nobody is perfect.  We all have our flaws, being human beings, and need to be forgiving and tolerant.  We all struggle with weaknesses and sin, and while Jewish I’ve found I like the instructional concept of the Seven Deadly Sins (and the other side of the coin, the Seven Cardinal Virtues), and am convinced that while all these are human weaknesses, each person has their “one sin” with which they wrestle as their dominant weakness.  And in that struggle with and – hopefully – victory over it do we demonstrate that we are more than a collection of chemicals and cells, but sentient creatures striving to improve ourselves.

So… this analogy goes as follows:

Imagine you have two cups.  One contains the purest, clearest, most wonderful water possible.  The other, raw sewage.  When you mix the two, you get sewage.  The same for a cup of sewage and a pitcher of water, or a barrel of water.  Regardless of the size of the pure water container, the sewage contaminates it.

This became the root of what I refer to as “The Rules of Sewage” in regards to a person’s character.  This one is the First Rule of Sewage, The Non-Proportional Rule of Sewage.  It means, as the saying above goes, that you can sometimes learn a thing about a person that taints the entirety of their personality – e.g., a person beats their spouse.  It doesn’t matter what else they are, what acts they do, they are polluted by that one thing.

This simmered in my mind over a couple of years, and I started to formulate other Rules of Sewage.  Each was based on the same base concept – mixing water and sewage.  Thus far I’ve come up with six.

The Second Rule of Sewage is the Non-Compartmentalized Rule of Sewage.  You cannot pour a cup of sewage into a container of water, and have it only remain in the place you poured it.  Bad character leaks into other elements of character.  E.g., a person who cheats on their spouse – thus breaking a sacred oath – cannot be counted on to keep an oath in any other part of their life.

The Third Rule of Sewage is the Immersive Rule of Sewage.  Imagine an edible fish taken from that pure water, placed in sewage, and somehow surviving – no matter the fish’s immune system and other defenses, it will become contaminated.  No matter how pure you are to begin with, if you are surrounded by bad people or bad content, it will start to affect you.  E.g., a good, honest person who goes to work in a place with bad ethics and stays there – for whatever reason – will sooner or later find they are making compromises to their own character and standards, and rationalizing their doing so.  (And this is, of course, the root of the proverb “Birds of a feather, flock together.”)

The Fourth Rule of Sewage is Irreversible Rule of Sewage.  Simply put, it’s a lot easier to mix the sewage in and ruin the water than reversing the process.  While people are certainly capable of change, it takes deliberate effort to do so, and usually also an ongoing awareness and maintenance of that change to avoid slipping back to whatever factor is being avoided.

The Fifth Rule of Sewage is the Odiferous Rule of Sewage.  Sewage, to put it bluntly, stinks like sh*t.  Bad odors like that can be covered up or contained, but not forever.  Sooner or later the malodorous item in a person’s character will out, and be readily apparent.  This actually ties in with…

The Sixth Rule of Sewage, the Reactive Rule of Sewage – when faced with a tank of sewage, normal people react negatively.  And while a person learning something about another (ref: Rule One) won’t physically turn their head away and scrunch up their face in disgust, I believe the plain truth is that upon learning of such a think will cause a decent person to dissociate – to whatever degree possible – from the other.  Failing to do so, or worse expressing approval, could be considered an example application of Rule One about them too.

In putting this concept “out there” it will be interesting to see if other Rules of Sewage develop in the comments.


©, 2013, David Hunt, PE

25 thoughts on “The Rules of Sewage

  1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.
    As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.

  2. I may be late to the comment party, but I agree that this is an excellent post and worthy of contemplation.

    As someone who has the privilege of giving sermons, this fits in so well with this week’s Gospel from Matthew of the parable of the weeds among the wheat.

    As a Christian, I need to venture into the “sewer” occasionally, but this reminds me to wear my rubber boots and make sure there are no holes in them.

      1. As I said, this post is worthy of contemplation. As I mulled over the ideas and reread your words, I noticed again that you requested additions to your rules of sewage, so I felt free to add one more.
        5a – (for lack of a great title, I give ‘the subtle spread of sewage’). At times you step in sewage if you come too close. As you move around you are unaware that you are contaminating the environment unless someone points out what you are doing or until you stop moving and smell it yourself. Listening to others whose input you trust and taking time to assess where you are and what you are doing are vital to prevention of accidental spread of sewage.

  3. One other thing to think of about sewage, and related to the seven deadly sins. Bear with me, this may seem a bit rambling.

    Sewage; as sewage, is a contaminant to the pure water because it has been mixed with the pure water to begin with, and the resulting mixture is in the wrong place, or being used inappropriately.

    Sewage itself is nothing more than shit and urine, diluted with water. Shit and urine are inevitable by-products of living organisms. To claim that there can be life with shit is preposterous. However, that shit is also quite useful for sustaining that life if used appropriately, as in properly being placed in the earth to become fertilizer. If you have ever seen the results of a garden that has been grown with the aid of night soil, you will get my meaning.

    So the sewage itself is not inherently bad, it is like all the other things that G-d placed with us, and it has two edges.

    Which brings me to my discussion of the seven deadly sins.

    Lust – easily the most perilous, and probably the most ubiquitous. However, sexual desire when properly focused into the G-d sanctioned marital relationship is fully sanctified, and creates new life. It becomes a deadly sin when it is taken out of its proper place, and used in contradiction to the way G-d designed it.

    Gluttony – have you ever considered what an amazing gift it is to enjoy food? Can you imagine what life would be like if eating was like breathing, something you did not notice until you could not do it? Surely, the gift of being to enjoy the taking of sustenance transforms what could be a burden into a blessing. However, when taken outside the realms of G-ds design…

    Greed – often the least understood. But consider what it would be like to lack the ability to store up more than what is needed for the moment. People who lack the ability to comprehend and plan more than a few days need at a time either do not live long, or are consumed with the effort needed to get by. The desire to amass goods or food is a gift, so long as it is not abused.

    Wrath – righteous anger is glorious. The scales of justice sometimes require that violence be meted out. Likewise, combat has been needed to protect against being struck down by another since Cain first slew Abel. Righteous anger permits us to destroy those who need destruction.

    Pride – the desire to ‘leave a mark’, or to make one’s world better has produced many amazing things. The desire to create goes hand in hand with pride. Anyone who has ever built something, has taken an idea from the mind and brought it fully into being has felt this pride. Whether it is a bit of code, a piece of carpentry, a straight ditch, a nuclear reactor, or even just a well-cleaned toilet, there can be no satisfaction in a job well done and done well, if it were not for pride.

    Envy – is not the same as covetousness. There is a vast difference between wanting something for it’s own sake, and wanting to take something away from someone else. Properly applied, envy can cause a person to emulate the actions of the person envied. Think of the boy learning the skills of his older brother, o wanting to be able to do what Dad does. These are the proper G-d given uses of the desire to have what another has.

    Sloth – rest is so important to G-d, that he commands us to take one day each week and do no work beyond what is needful to sustain life. ‘Nuff said.

    However, notice that all of these gifts can be twisted and so misused as to become deadly to the soul. Since they are among G-ds greatest blessings, it delights Lucifer to no end to twist them into deadly weapons, and cause them to be used in the wrong ways, and the wrong places, to destroy us.
    Just like your sewage analogy, shit when used properly is beneficial. But when shit is mixed into the pure water, and not placed into the earth to revitalize the growing things, it is can be deadly to us.

    Just so. The seven deadly sins are the result of us misusing the gifts that G-d has given, and through the misuse, the nature of the gift is transformed from a benefit into a peril. The quality of the gift itself makes it so perilous to abuse, and many lost souls become trapped and destroyed by the very things that should have been blessings.

    1. Does every person have the CAPACITY to improve and be a good person? Sure. That is the beauty of being human; we have a soul from G-d, and that soul can work to improve itself. I would argue that is your “candle in the dark”.

      But that candle’s flame must jump to other elements of a person’s character, and that can only happen because of deliberate volition. It all boils down to the choices we make, every day.

  4. I believe there is a correlation here with Matthew 7:13-14. Untended, all life forms will die, decay, rot, and stink before essentially disappearing. Good character, also left essentially “untended,” that is, left to mingle entropically with that which is on the path to rot, will also eventually die, decay and stink on its way to total disappearance. The wide (easy, entropic) path described by Matthew as taken by many is the “untended” way of living most choose; the narrow (difficult, focused) path and requiring among other choices, separation from the “sewage” that we constantly encounter in life, is the ‘good’ path, yet is taken by few.

    Just a thought.

  5. What about redemption? Can sewage ever be cleaned? If a person does one of these horrible things, does it mean there is no way to repair their life?

    1. See the 4th Rule:

      “While people are certainly capable of change, it takes deliberate effort to do so, and usually also an ongoing awareness and maintenance of that change to avoid slipping back to whatever factor is being avoided.”

      Sure it can. But it’s a lot harder. A person I know is wallowing in the stuff right now; I’m trying to convince them to try to be better every day, even if it’s only by one hairs-breadth per day.

      1. Thanks for responding. My husband sent me your article. It really impressed him. I can tell this is a subject you’ve really considered.

        When I read, “That tells me everything I need to know about him.” Made me feel like if someone did one of those things in the past…kind of end of story, I don’t want to know him because he has ruined his clean water. And that made me kind of sad.

        If someone abused his wife in the past, but that woke him up and made him change his ways…then maybe I would want to be friends with him. Sometimes it’s the really horrible things that makes us never want to go back to such a low state.

    2. Again – people can change. Sometimes doing something horrible can “wake you up” and change people. But it’s hard.

      I suppose part of it would be if, after learning of it, you commented and they expressed sincere remorse. As I mentioned, the talk show radio host whom I mentioned had ZERO remorse.

      Have I done things in my past I’m ashamed of? You betcha!

      1. I’m sure we all have! And yes, it much better to have never have made a serious error…then to have to clean it up. I think that is really the point of your article. To save the reader from the mistake in the first place.

        My husband told me he had a completely different take of your article. And that the point was to lead as flawless of a life as possible starting now.

  6. Love them all, but the immersive rule is the most poignant to me. I have been in that office surrounded by sewage, and what I find is that people wish you to meld into the sewage, because if you don’t, you are a mirror reflecting what they are doing back to them. Generally speaking, people mired in sewage want verification that what they are doing is OK, and by refusing to give it to them, you’re ruining the party. Unfortunately, witch hunts with the intent of getting you fired because you won’t play along often ensue. It’s an ugly situation; one I’m glad to have gotten away from without having to join the sewage first.

  7. Excellent analysis.

    Paraphrase from George Washington’s Rules of Civility – ‘better alone than in bad company’.

  8. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    In just about every place I’ve worked the bad stuff gets around. In my last place the toxic atmosphere the company owner who later became the manger when the company was purchased tainted everything he touched. I don’t think he ever realized that it was his own toxic behaviors and abuse that created his problems. the irony is that if he had been able to restrain his toxic behaviors so much would have been accomplished.

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