How many people return their shopping carts?

Frederick Dodson

Frederick Dodson

I had just packed food into the car and was looking around for a place to put the empty shopping cart. There was none in my part of the parking lot. I’d have to walk to another parking lot just to return the shopping cart. Instead, I spotted 4 carts nearby, cleanly stacked and I added my cart to it. I won’t just leave my cart anywhere, much less standing astray in a parking lot, is because I don’t like to find parking lots taken by carts. The reason I leave a public toilet clean, is because I want to find a public toilet clean. As I treat the world, the world treats me.

I sat in my car observing for 20 minutes. I was curious to see how many people actually return their carts and how many just leave them anywhere. The question was: Are people generally self-responsible or do they need to be governed?

At this particular supermarket, the guests were well behaved. About 50% returned their carts to the place assigned. Another 20% did not return the carts to their assigned place, but made sure they were out of the way of traffic or added to other carts. And around 30% really didn’t give a damn. Another interesting observation: It wasn’t that easy to predict who would not return their cart. Non-returners came from all walks of life, all social classes and all ages.

In this particular scenario, 70% didn’t require Government, 30% needed to be governed. I guess that’s not yet high enough to abolish Government. The remaining 20% were self-responsible but not necessarily conformist. On that day, I was in the 20% bracket. I cared about the well-being of others and didn’t want my cart in anyones way, but saw no urgent need to take it to another parking lot.

It’s quite important to “do the right thing” self-responsibly, regardless of who is or isn’t watching. It’s a sign of high consciousness integrity. It makes the world a friendlier place and keeps your mind clear, without regret. And it’s better to be goodness than to reprimand others to do good. The more each and every one of us governs ourselves (instead of attempting to govern others), the brighter the world gets.

Another thing I noticed:

When one person put a cart where it doesn’t belong, another person was more likely to put their cart their too. Person A shoves their cart against the wall. Person B exits the supermarket, sees the stray cart against the wall and adds their own to it. Its a monkey-see, monkey-do world. Soon there’s a domino effect (like attracts like) of many people just randomly shoving their carts against the wall. The paint starts to peel off, making the wall look run down. Frustrated staff have to spend time picking the carts up. One small act can have butterfly-effect-like consequences down the line.

The shopping-cart issue is a mini-version of society as a whole and your own attitude toward it. It’s easy to return the cart. It’s probably even easier not to return it. It’s not illegal not to return it. So do you or don’t you? Will you do the right thing, even though you get no tangible benefit out of it? Even if nobody is expecting you to do it? If you believe that what you put out, you get back, energetically, you’ll return your cart most of the time.

When I got home I browsed around the Internet, wondering if anyone else was asking these questions. Sure enough, millions were. I learned that 70% self-responsible is not the rule. Some Walmart employees, for example, were complaining that the majority don’t return their carts. That surprised me. Maybe their area had a different clientele.

The opposite extreme of being irresponsible, is being overly conformist. At another time, I saw one person accosting another for not putting their cart back. “You put that cart where it belongs, right now!” This person was trying to be responsible for the conduct of another. In my view it’s better to be responsible toward others than for others (unless they are ones employees or your own children). Being responsible toward others means that you do the right thing. Being responsible for others means that you try to get them to do the right thing. The first option is much easier and people learn more by your example than by what you tell them to think or do. Ordering strangers to do stuff means it does not come from within them and they have no opportunity to develop self-responsibility.

Self-responsibility or self-motivation, by the way, is the defining character-trait of very successful people. Why is that so? I’ll leave it up to you to think about.

Just for fun, here are different Levels of Shopping Cart Return, from high civility to low.


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