COMMENTARY: There Are Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who think those who think there are two kinds of people in the world are self-righteous jerks.

A listener called me to task concerning a story about a man who told his son there are two kinds of people: those who return their shopping carts and those who don’t.

His first point was that it’s dangerous and foolish to use simplistic categorizations. On this I have to agree, although I didn’t think the father who divided the world into two categories was being literal. I think he was making the point that we all have endless choices — either to do the right thing instinctively and consistently or to join those who find excuses not to. The original story came from a book Hugs for Dad by John William Smith. I don’t know if it’s literally true or not, but it’s a powerful parable.

His second point was that he objected to the implication that anyone who doesn’t return shopping carts is falling short on any scale of virtue. “As long as markets pay union wages and benefits to employees to collect these carts,” he said, “I shouldn’t reduce the amount of their work.”

This rationale ignores the story’s main message: Be considerate, clean up after yourself, and make life easier, not harder, for the next guy. Under his analysis, we help custodians and housekeepers by making a mess.

I don’t think I was a bad person when I didn’t return shopping carts, but I think I’m a little bit better now that I do. You see, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to be better and those who don’t.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 11

  1. If that’s your point then why not have the father just say that in your original story? It seems to me that after years (decades?) of touting this story you have finally realized that it falls short of presenting a precise message. It’s alright to say you were wrong. In fact one might say you would be a better person for admitting it.

    1. Marko,

      Seriously? This all boils down to more than hammering the inefficiency and basing it on, of all things, a timeline. My question is, ‘Who cares? All qualifiers aside, it does not diminish the original message one iota. While your comment aims at plucking out accountability by seeking to define this issue as an accuracy versus precision issue, it strikes me that such reasoning amounts to drowning oneself in a thimble full of water. If you have to go to this extreme, you are missing the point. Dry yourself off because this message is about doing the right thing. Thank you for the message Mr. Josephson, you were on track then and you are on point now.

  2. Michael,
    I agree completely with you, that we should strive to help others whenever we can no matter what, sometimes you do fall short………”I was in a hurry and I left the cart in the parking lot”, but if we work hard at thinking about others they in small and sometimes big ways will think about others and maybe our society will start to be what we once were; people that care!!!……keep up the good work Michael.
    George

  3. people who leave their shopping carts in the parking lot are creating problems for the next person who wants to park – the carts roll around, block parking spaces, roll into cars, are hit by people trying to move them so they can park. It wouldn’t hurt to be considerate to others. It takes less energy to simply return the cart to the nearest cart return than it does to stop, get out, move the cart so you can park. by the way, thank a union for 40 hour weeks, sick leave, paid vacations, and all the other conditions of employment that we take for granted.

  4. I like the shopping cart analogy. I agree with the point of the story and I like being the kind of person who returns shopping carts. There will always be people who justify doing the wrong thing but we all know who is who and what is what.

  5. I’m sorry but I had to comment on this. A shopping cart is just too petty to be concerned about. Sadly this commentary reflects more of it. We don’t need an army of crazy people wasting their time wondering and rationalizing such things. Most people are already compulsive. Focus on the bigger things. Thanks.

  6. To judge any behavior you need having all info.
    How ab out if that person leaving car is ill, is in a hurry, has a child or two with him/her,… and so on?

    At the end every one is responsible for his acts and I am not qualify nor requested to
    judge anybody.

  7. You see, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to be better and those who don’t.

    Sounds judgmental, arrogant, sanctimonious, and holier-than-thou; however, I see you repeatedly recycling this old story because it gets people to take sides and comment. I think this may be because it is something that involves a common experience, so everyone feels qualified to express an opinion, as if this points out some deep ethical conundrum.

    I think this dead horse has been pounded enough, but since you are still getting readers to comment, I guess we’ll see it again next year. In fact, you might be right to do so, since I’m contributing myself by sending this in. However, I vow to ignore your ploy the next time (and the next time, and the next time, etc.)

  8. Michael,

    Even though this parable has been recycled, it is still good to read and reread. For one thing, I am sure you always have new readers coming on board and this may be the first time they have read it. Secondly, we revisit places that we have been every time we listen to a sermon or devotional based on a piece of Scripture that we have already heard, and in doing so, we expect that it may touch us in a way that is unique or deeper than perhaps it did the last time we heard it.

    Having said that, I must admit that I often hear your words in my head when I am in the parking lot with my cart and I face the decision of whether to leave it or take it to the proper place. Almost always I take it back. I have failed a few times as I justify that I am old, I am cold, I am (fill in the blank). I pledge to do a better job of taking the cart back, picking up the piece of paper, putting something I have used back in the correct place and thereby saving someone else the inconvenience of doing it. So, there, it was good for me that you shared the story again, and I hope you will share it again in the future. Somebody will need to hear it and it just might be me!

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