Shopping cart

The Basket Theory – Columbia Star

If you’re on top of the Interweb universe like me, you probably already know that The Shopping Cart Theory is the last thing to be discussed without thinking. I’ve been interested in shopping carts for years – from buggies to Southerners – but I had no idea these things were a barometer of a person’s possible conduct.

The shopping cart theory states whether a person puts their cart back in the rack rather than leaving it where they please determines the quality of that person. I’m not sure I’m buying what they’re selling, but that’s what the theory claims.

Sylvan Goldman invented carts in 1937 to transport groceries from store to vehicle to help customers save energy and surreptitiously encourage them to buy more. The carts seem like great service. All the customer needs to do is place the cart in the convenient rack near their parking spot when finished.

The theory claims that since there is no punishment for leaving the cart next to one’s car, the only pressure is the societal norm. People who are naturally “good” will return the cart to its resting place, and those who are not will not.

My first discovery of anything stroller related was noticing that someone left their cart in an unacceptable location, someone else would soon leave a second cart next to it. A subtle permission since the second guy only copied another person’s dubious action.

For those people, like this one, who were raised by a mother who would immediately retort, “If Tommy jumped off a cliff, would you do it?” this implied permission is null and void. But I find this part of the shopping basket theory to be more revealing of human behavior than the simple analogy between good and evil.

Very little about human behavior is simple. We are influenced by all sorts of mixed signals, most of which we haven’t even discovered yet. Our brain rewards us for actions that promote our survival and punishes us for things that threaten it. We have all types of societal norms based on myths from centuries ago and more modern theories based on unreliable internet publications.

Most people who refuse to put the carts back in the racks may just be lazy. They then complicate things by justifying their choice with excuses. I didn’t see a cart nearby. I was too tired to return it. I was saving someone’s job. The food is too expensive for me to do their job. When you want to justify something dubious, any excuse will do.

I think a lot of us want determining people’s goodness to be simple. We like to think that societal norms and upbringing can determine a person’s internal quality. Many religions claim to be the origin of morality, but there were people who coexisted peacefully with each other for hundreds of thousands of years before the first religion was established.

I consider myself a good judge of character, but I’ve been surprised many times by people doing the opposite of what I thought they might do. The truth is that we have no idea how to determine a person’s goodness.

Maybe it’s time to stop judging people. You know, as the Good Book says.