There is a theory called the “shopping cart theory” going around that is supposing that our moral character can be determined by whether we chose to return the shopping cart to its designated spot or not.
We promise we’re not trying to contribute to an existential crisis and make you question your own moral character, but many on Twitter are going back and forth defending their stance after a user named Jared put out the test and justified it with a character-defining theory. Here is the scenario in question, and the explanation of theory.
The Initial Test
Above is the image circulating all over. The “shopping cart theory” proposes that an individual’s moral character can be determined by whether they choose to return a shopping cart to its designated spot after use or whether they simply leave it wherever is convenient.
Think back to the last time you were at the grocery store…Most stores have several designated spots across the parking lot but there are times when you’re parked just far away enough that you would have to go out of your way to bring it back…At that point do you leave it knowing someone working would come collect it eventually or do you take the extra steps to bring it back anyway?
A Test Of Self-Governance
The original post wants you to get thinking about the big picture. We agree that in the grand scheme of things, where you leave your cart might not be a big deal, but it’s the principle behind it. If you’re the kind of person who leaves it because it’s convenient foryou, knowing that you’re making someone else’s job harder, where else do you try and do what works for you despite of how it affects others?
“The shopping cart is the ultimate l test for whether a person is capable of self-governing, the post states. To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. 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,” explains the original post
The Difference Between Illegal And Wrong
The post continues: “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.”
So no one is going to come to arrest you because you didn’t put the shopping cart back. However, the line between right and wrong isn’t that black and white, nor what’s legal all right and what’s illegal all wrong. It comes down to your capacity for goodness and how much you’re willing to give even if it doesn’t benefit or impact you at all. This is how real change is created. We can all go about our lives doing what’s best for ourselves without it being harmful to others, but by never helping anyone else, we keep our community as a whole stagnant, and we fail to unleash the potential of all going the extra mile.
It’s Not About Punishment Or Reward
The author of The Shopping Cart Theory continues, “No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will fine you, or kill you for not returning the shopping cart, you gain nothing by returning 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.”
While some rules are meant to be broken, it’s not because the goal is to rebel but because sometimes to do the right isn’t to do what everyone else is doing but following your own lead and intuition to determine what would best serve others. How much energy are you willing to put into helping someone else? As children, we tend to wait for a reward if we do the right thing or a punishment for the wrong thing, but as adults, we should know that we shouldn’t base our behavior on what we’ll get out of it but on why we’re doing it. This is actually the reason why many relationships fail as well. Sometimes the purpose should be as simple as making someone else happy.
Similarity To The Alignment Theory
A Twitter user noticed that this theory is similar to that of the alignment theory. Both theories seem to try to classify human character based on their moral instinct. The Shopping Cart test equates a person who is unable to take the time to return their cart to a person who is no better than an animal: “A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it,” the theory states
Similarly the alignment theory was started by the gameDungeons & Dragons (D&D), a fantasyrole-playing game, and was meant to categorize ethical and moral perspectives based on the characters’ choices. The characters’ views and choices are between “law” versus “chaos”, and “good” versus “evil,” which allows for the nine alignments combinations in the above image. It’s supposed to reflect how human beings behave in the world and how governments and society as a whole are molded.
Are You Good Or Bad?
“The Shopping Cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society,” the theory concludes. This may seem like an extreme way of judging character but sometimes it takes breaking it down to a simple task to really dissect the makings of ethics and morality.
It’s hard to find a balance between blindly following rules and doing what’s right, even if it means breaking some rules. The other important lesson here is that it’s always going to be easier to do what benefits us, but if each one of us does that then we’d be creating a really selfish toxic environment, as well as contributing to inequality and an unbalanced power dynamic. The poor would remain poor, no change would be made to fight evil and no one would ever be able to reach their true potential. It starts with a shopping cart but then where else does it go?
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Higher Perspectives Author is one of the authors writing for Higher Perspectives