Which Are You?

Imagine with me, if you will: you’re going to the grocery store. You have a long list, it’s Friday afternoon, and you’re greeted by an irritatingly full parking lot. You spot an empty space. As you round the corner to pull in, you are greeted with… The Stray Cart. One wheel is popped up onto the curb to keep it from rolling away into traffic but it’s butt is in your way, much as you are now in the way of other shoppers. This onerous chore, already packed into a busy day, just got worse. And why?

Because someone else’s time is more important than yours.

Shopping carts are a privately owned community resource. You won’t be arrested, fined, or even shamed really for leaving your cart in a neighboring parking spot, but putting it back is the right thing to do, a helpful thing to do, and a low effort thing to do. Because of this peculiar combination of features, returning a cart makes an interesting litmus test, dividing people into the majority group: those who default to helping others, and the minority: those who can’t be bothered.

I have always been the kind of person who puts their cart away. As a child shopping with the family, I or my brother took on the task, not even really realizing there was the option not to. As a young adult with small shopping, I left my cart at the door and walked my bags to my car (or all the way home, for that chunk of time broke me’s car was busted). Now, I make it a point of walking my cart, and others if I walk past them, back to where they belong. It has become as much about completing tasks and putting things in order as about helping others.

I think about this every time I go grocery shopping. I think about the people who day in and day out do the little things to make the lives around them easier. Better. I think about the people who choose not to complete this incredibly simple, easy task and I wonder why. I wonder what the rest of their life looks like. I wonder if I have any cart-leavers in my life that I don’t know about. And I feel a little smugness, and a little solidarity, with everyone else walking their carts across the lot and back to the door.