The Shopping Cart Theory

I’ve noticed I’ve been writing a fair bit about right and wrong lately. Not really sure what’s prompting that, beyond someone trying to break into my neighbour’s garage recently. But some of it has had me questioning our perceptions of right and wrong, and how good or perspectively bad a person may be. I say “perspectively” because what seems to be bad to one person, may in fact seem perfectly normal to another. The problem is, most people will allow themselves to do most given things if they know for a fact they won’t get caught. Let’s take speeding, as an example. Everyone knows that speeding is illegal. Most people recognize that they shouldn’t do it and that speed laws are in place for a reason but most people will also allow themselves to speed if they believe there are no cops around and they won’t get caught.

Enter: The Shopping Cart Theory. I’ve heard/read about this theory a number of times over the years, and have even had heated discussions with friends and family members over the concept. The theory postulates that in general, people are unable to self-govern unless they’re ordered to do a given thing or may face consequences if they don’t. This is demonstrated by the returning of a shopping cart, once one is done shopping and has loaded up their vehicle. In concept, there is no acceptable reason WHY a person can’t return their shopping cart. It only takes a moment, it’s simple and easy and it saves work for others.

The flip side to that, is that there are no laws obligating a person to return their shopping cart. The reality is that no one will punish you, fine you, harm you or kill you for failing to return your shopping cart. Although most of us will invariably recognize returning our shopping cart as the right thing to do, there is nothing to be gained from returning it. No one will praise you, you gain nothing and returning it is done only out of the goodness of one’s heart. One must accept and recognize that one is returning the shopping cart ONLY because it is the right thing to do and provides nothing of value or reward to the person.

This is why The Shopping Cart Theory basically determines whether a person is good or bad within the scope of modern society. The thinking is that a person who is unable to take five seconds to return their cart after using it, is only able to do what’s right when they are threatened by the law or some show of force. Most people will leave their cart unreturned without a second thought, seeing no issue with doing so. Hell, I’ve been guilty of it myself, on occasion. I like to rationalize that I had my children with me to deal with or that it was a freezing winter day. But what makes me any better or more important than the poor staff person who has to retrieve my cart in those harsh conditions because I chose not to do so?

Are we capable of doing the right thing, even when we have nothing to gain and won’t be punished for failing to do so? I’d like to think so. I’ve evidence to the contrary often enough to make me question it, though. But doing the right thing even when not required to so, plays into the Noble Eightfold Path, which includes Right Thinking and Right Action. So, the moral of this post is simply to ask oneself a question: Am I able to self-govern and do what’;s right, even when it gains me nothing? If the answer is no, perhaps a touch of self-reflection is necessary. Food for thought… ☯️

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Shawn

I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

One thought on “The Shopping Cart Theory”

  1. I’ve always returned my carts. It’s basic common courtesy. On the flip side I’ve had people leave their cart right in the space they saw I was waiting to pull into while they loaded their car.

    I hadn’t heard of the shopping cart theory until a year ago (maybe a bit less), but I think it’s a fairly valid measure of human morals.

    Like

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