gray steel shopping cart

Like most people this year, I found myself with an abundance of free time. The job search was pointless, none of my friends lived within 1,500 miles of me, and my husband was punching the clock for two people as our only source of income. Just the memory of those endlessly boring days brings Celine Dion’s voice resonating “…alllllll byyyyy myyyyysellllllffffff….”.  (What is comical now was ridiculously sad at that moment.)

To soothe the boredom and avoid the depressing belief of my unworthiness to the world, I spent time surfing the internet. That, too, would be a sad thought, if it weren’t for the Reddit post I stumbled upon a few months ago.

Posted by u/InsertUselessText on the r/Publix subreddit site approximately 6 months ago (apparently he/she had snagged it from an anonymous source prior to posting), the Shopping Cart Theory is the idea that the shopping cart itself is “the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing.”  As the theory goes, there is no system of punishment or reward for returning or not returning your shopping cart to the designated collection point after using it. Therefore, one has the option to be “good” simply for the sake of being good.  The theory essentially asks, are you a member of society concerned for the greater good, or simply yourself? 

On a blasé lunch hour last week, I was in the grocery store parking lot doing some last-minute revisions to the article due that day. Between laughing and cursing at my usual procrastination routine (some things just never change; I will forever be lazy), I looked up at the two shopping carts in the empty parking space in front of me. They were there when I pulled in, so I didn’t think anything of them while still in my vehicle. Next to them was another parked car with its owner transferring groceries from cart to car. I watched this middle-aged, apparently healthy, most likely middle-class, everyday lady finish unloading her cart, then simply leave it about 12 inches from the others already there. No big deal, there were others there already for someone to collect, right?  Probably not, but I found myself scoffing. Partially because I am always annoyed when people don’t return carts, but mostly because the designated return point was TWO PARKING SPACES AWAY.  My brain went ballistic as the Shopping Cart Theory rolled into mind.

We shouldn’t have to be reminded as grown adults to be considerate to one another. By now at our ages (as in, old enough to know better) this should be ingrained in us. My gosh, if 2020 has taught us nothing else, it must have shown us that there is always a need for added goodness. A little lagniappe, as my Cajun-raised husband would say: A little something extra, the cherry on top. Not good because you are required, not good because someone is watching, but because society as a whole needs us to be just that — good. In a time of uncertain outcomes, fleeting moments and overall unrest, one iota of benevolence could alter the course of an entire day.  Whether it be your own day or someone else’s matters not; someway, somehow, the day is brighter. A smile to a stranger, a helping hand lifting a heavy object, an open mind in the face of an opposing view; all of these gestures can revolutionize outcomes.  That smile could stop someone from committing suicide. Or, it could just be random sunshine.  Lifting that object could have saved someone from serious physical injury. At the very least, it made a difficult job easier. That open mind could be the door that invites discussion and stops a riot … or you simply made someone feel heard. Either way, any of those endings made the day better, and that affects more than just you. That stranger’s family now has another day with their loved one. That helping hand produced gratitude and encouraged a pay-it-forward-type reaction. That open mind changed the course of a city, and ultimately, tens of thousands of lives.  

I was always taught that how you treat others is a direct reflection of your soul. As humans we are quick to forget that we are no better than anyone else in this game called Life. We don’t mean to, we just become so … occupied, that we disregard the need for mindfulness of others.  Sometimes, we just need to be reminded.

As clichéd and tired as these examples sound, they hold merit. I can vouch firsthand how strangers have rescued me in the smallest ways and saved my days past. All because they took an average of 10 seconds to be selfless. So honestly, if you’re the kind of person who has no qualms about increasing the difficulty of someone else’s day, well, you’re just a selfish person.  And really, you are part of why society is cracking. We all need each other, collectively, We need You.  

You don’t have to return your shopping carts. No one is forcing you. Someone might be watching, but no one will mete out punishment. It’s solely up to you to be the good person this world needs.

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