The Shopping Cart Theory – A Test of Moral Character

Congratulations, you made it through the holidays!  I hope you enjoyed yourself too much, laughed too hard, ate too many treats, and had another wonderful holiday season with friends and family.  And, I trust you are now as thrilled as I am to have it behind us.  Whew!

With January arriving, we are now poised to experience non-stop weight-loss ads, gym membership discount pricing, and the latest healthy meal-planning program launched.  You see, January is the time of the year when society tries to “help us” by pointing out room for improvement in our lives.  While you evaluate areas where you might want to get healthier in 2024, check your moral compass and ensure it’s in good shape, too.  You can purchase no app, widget, or membership that will bring you as much core satisfaction as keeping your moral character healthy.

When I speak of morals, let me be clear I am not speaking of ethics.  Ethics are external rules that vary depending on the environment.  For example, it’s ethically acceptable to tip a delivery person for bringing my lunch, but it’s not ethically acceptable to tip my US postal carrier for delivering my mail.  While I appreciate both sets of hard-working professionals, the ethics of tipping are not the same in each environment.  Morals differ from ethics, however, because they are personal principles that rarely change.  Telling the truth and avoiding deception should not change depending on the environment.  Neither should having integrity nor taking responsibility for our actions.  What’s right is right, and what’s not right should make the needle on our moral compass twitch.

Enter, “The Shopping Cart Theory.”  If you haven’t heard of this, let me bring you up to speed.  A few years ago, this theory went viral on social media stating it was the ultimate litmus test for someone’s moral compass.  Returning a shopping cart to the store or cart corral is relatively easy and convenient, and is what most of us recognize (absent a true emergency) as the right thing to do.  But, abandoning your cart in a parking lot is not illegal.  No one will punish you or fine you if you leave it next to your car instead.  And, you will gain nothing tangible by doing the good deed of returning the cart to its home.  So, why do it when there’s no credit and no repercussion?  Because you can.  You’re a good person who chooses to do good things.

Our moral compass directs us to be good members of our community who are capable of doing good things when there is no reward and no punishment either way.  An upstanding member of a community is morally right, good, and honest.  While no one is holding you accountable for leaving your cart to the mercy of a gale-force wind that is going to whip it around until it smashes into my car, your moral compass was probably twitching as you drove away from your abandoned cart.  You knew better.

As January kicks off society’s season of “you can do better” and bombards you with ads for self-improvement, I hope you take time to improve something that matters.  Knock the dust off your moral compass, and make sure it’s still giving you strong guidance for being a good person with integrity, forgiveness, and compassion, and one who takes responsibility.  Let your moral compass guide you to do what’s right on behalf of yourself, your family, and your community each time.  Pass the shopping cart test!

If you have questions regarding HOA law, contact any of our attorneys at 303.432.9999.  For more information on the shopping cart litmus test or any other operational and human resource trends, contact Missy Hirst, MSLA, Altitude Community Law’s Chief Operating Officer  at [email protected].

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