When you go shopping, do you return the cart to its corral in the parking lot? Be honest: Do you? Every time? Even when it’s pouring rain and the kids are screaming at each other and you just want to get home before the ice cream melts?
The “Shopping Cart Theory” posits that an individual’s moral character and capacity for self-governance faces its ultimate test in supermarket parking lots.
“To return a shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do,” posted an anonymous Reddit user who is credited with creating the theory. “To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart.
“Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore, the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it.”
Since there is no reward for returning the shopping cart and no punishment for failing to return the shopping cart, “you must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct.”
The shopping cart, therefore, “is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society.”
The parking lot is a microcosm of society itself. An overwhelming majority of people will always (or at least almost always) return their shopping carts just as an overwhelming majority of people will always (or at least almost always) follow societal laws and behavioral norms.
Some people, however, don’t.