One of the benefits of having a dog is that he has to be taken for walks.

Living as we do on a beautiful part of the Bay of Plenty coast, we have ample choices as to where to walk our West Highland white terrier Lachie and we usually manage to start the day by taking him on to the beach below us.

If we need to go into town, we can use the car journey as a chance to stop off at another part of the beach so that we can walk Lachie on the way home.

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Our favourite spot is a sealed area alongside the beach where motorists are able to pull in and have a cup of coffee, courtesy of our friend who parks his mobile coffee cart there.

We don't get to enjoy the coffee ourselves since I rather fancy myself as a barista, and we like to get home to my espresso machine and enjoy our morning coffee on our deck looking over the sea.

But there are usually several people at the coffee cart when we stop; they sip their coffee, with their toes - figuratively speaking - in the sand, enjoying the sunshine and the sound of the sea lapping on the shore.

They are usually happy to chat for a few moments. It is an informal and constantly changing social gathering - pleasurable, relaxed and very Kiwi.

We were delighted to see the other morning someone loading driftwood (brought down to the beach by the heavy rain recently) and being helped by his dog, tail wagging, and carrying bits of driftwood up the beach alongside his master.

We usually take Lachie for a short walk along a short private road leading from the parking area towards the Surf Club. And, in case you ask, we carry the little bags we need to ensure that any calling cards he leaves are picked up and taken home.

The area on each side of the road is grassed, and - nearer the Surf Club - there are wooden tables and benches, fixed to the ground, so that passers-by can relax and enjoy the scenery.

Sadly, though, the furniture has been, on several occasions - either deliberately or accidentally - damaged and has had to be replaced.

And, what were once the grassed areas have been destroyed after apparently being used repeatedly as skid pads by cars or motorbikes so that they are now just rutted and sloppy pools of mud.

And it would be a rare walk when we do not see the evidence, in the form of discarded fast-food wrappings and crushed and empty beer and ready-to-drink cans, of the previous night's visitors.

I know this lament will be seen as only to be expected from my generation.

But my wife and I feel, not anger or disgust, but sadness. We find it hard to comprehend how people (I was tempted to say "young people" but we cannot justify leaping to that conclusion) can be so careless of the beauty that surrounds them that they would deliberately despoil it - and so careless of their fellow citizens (and so selfish) that they would seek their own destructive pleasures, whatever the cost to others.

New Zealand, I was pleased to see, recently topped one of those increasingly frequent polls that purport to rate countries in terms of whether or not they are good places to live. We should not, however, be too self-congratulatory - we can claim little personal credit for scoring well in terms of natural beauty, and the social qualities we are commended for we have inherited from our forefathers.

We might, however, feel some justified pride if our generation had managed to inculcate a sense of the public good, rather than just giving priority to the gratification of individual whims and desires - but, on the evidence of the walk we do with Lachie, we fall some distance short of that.

If we really want a good society, we have to make an effort, and that means setting an example.

We cannot expect to build a responsible society if the ethos established by our leaders is that we should admire and reward those who put themselves first and grab what they can - and the devil take the hindmost.

Bryan Gould is a former British MP and Waikato University Vice-Chancellor.