SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT FOR TEENS: Shopping Carts and Character

Hi, this is Michael Josephson with Something to Think About.

When Leon was 14, his father asked him to return a shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot.  Leon was annoyed. “C’mon, Dad,” he said, “No one returns their carts anymore. That’s why they hire people to collect them. If everyone returned their shopping carts some people would lose their jobs.”

His dad, weary of always fighting with Leon, was about to give in when he saw an elderly couple walking together to return their cart. Finally, he said firmly, “Son, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who return their shopping carts and those who don’t. We are the kind who do.  Now, go return the cart.”

Leon, now a father himself, remembered this story when was arguing with his 15-year-old daughter who protested that it was unfair that she had to give up her Saturday to visit  her Aunt Susie who recently had a baby.  “Why do I have to go?”

Like his father years before, Leon was tempted to surrender, but instead he said “Because they are family and that’s what families do.”

What do you think?

Is there any virtue in being “the kind of people who return shopping carts” or who visit family even when it’s inconvenient or are these just examples of adults abusing their authority to order kids around?

Anne Frank was only 13 when she wrote, “The formation of our character lies in our own hands.”  She realized that character is both shaped and revealed by our choices. And our choices are determined by our values – what we believe is important.

Every day, we face choices between what we want to do and what we should do. Being consistently kind and considerate, honest and responsible, treating everyone with respect – even trying to be fair — is not easy and very few people are all those things all the time.

The challenge is to be the best person you can be and even small things like returning shopping carts and visiting relatives can help you form the habits and gain the reputation of a good person.

Only you can decide whether it’s worth it.

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Comments 7

  1. Let’s see, the people in the world are divided into those that return shopping carts and those that don’t? Not healers and murderers. Not heroes and criminals. Not even honest students and cheaters. But those that return shopping carts and those who don’t. Seems like all we have to do is round up all those immoral offenders and the world’s problems will all be solved. What a bunch of hooey! This story is as ridiculous today as it was when it first came out.

    1. Well, obviously different people draw different messages from different stories. The odd thing is that of the 2000 or so commentaries I’ve done in the past 15 years this one (or variations of it) has been among the top five in terms of response and reaction. I understand why you don’t like it but can you understand why others do?

      1. Yes, I do understand why it is so popular: People like to be led down a simplistic path without bothering to see the bigger picture. They don’t like to be challenged to think of the ramifications of how one-dimensional reasoning undermines the true values that should be learned. They like it because they are too lazy to bother to do any independent thinking. And, they like it since, in reality, they buy this faulty reasoning because it allows them to vent their frustration about the last time someone left a shopping cart in a parking space they wanted – not because it is truly a measure of morals or values.

        1. You seem shallow and bitter. Your comments seem to reflect your narrow and pessimistic view of life. Look up and realize God’s mercy has allowed you to live and be grateful…. for SOMETHING!!

        2. I’m thinking that any story or message would be lost on Marko, but his mind could possibly be opened. Jesus had to explain his story to his disciples. Marko can’t see that the story is about the two different principles by which people live. One is selfishness. I don’t have to return it. Nobody’s going to punish me. I can drive 90 mph because WAZE hasn’t warned me there are police ahead. It’s not my fault that person “fell and can’t get up.” Someone else will do something. It’s not going to bother me that another person had to stop, get out of his car, and move the cart I left there in the way. Etc. Etc. The other principle is character and others centered. It’s the right thing to do, so I’ll do it. I have an opportunity to bless someone else, so I’ll help them up. I won’t leave this cart where it will inhibit someone else’s path. I’m not someone who thinks it is someone else’s job to clean up after me. Etc. Etc.

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