Shopping Cart Statement

Shopping Cart Statement

“Broken windows” is a theory of criminology that posits one broken window left unattended will lead to additional broken windows because it reveals that no one notices or, worse, no one cares. It was introduced in 1982 by social scientists and has generated controversy in the years since.

I am not a social scientist, but I am a life-long student of human behavior. It’s no secret we have become more disorderly in our social interactions for reasons I won’t try to delineate or debate here. One thing I have been noticing and thinking about lately is the disorderly way in which shopping carts are dealt with after use.

Some are returned to cart corrals, those designated areas installed in parking lots for shoppers’ convenience. Others are shoved to within reasonable range of said corrals. Some are simply abandoned, presumably near shoppers’ vehicles. This is such a small thing, but it has me thinking about distraction and the disregard some seem to have for their fellow shoppers.

Being curious, I embarked on a tiny thought experiment. Does bad weather cause a greater number of abandoned or hastily shoved shopping carts? That would make sense.

No, weather doesn’t seem to matter. Is time of day a predictor? Maybe hurried stops on the way home from work after stressful days? That doesn’t seem to matter, either. Too few cart corrals? Nope.

What does seem to matter is a high level of self-absorption, inattentiveness to one’s surroundings, and a near-complete disregard for others. These descriptors are intended as observations not moral criticisms.

This assessment seemed to be affirmed late one afternoon when I returned my cart and organized several others, pushing them forward to compact rows in the cart corral.

“Well aren’t you little miss neat freak?” said a voice behind me. I turned with a chuckle, thinking it a good-natured poke at what must have appeared an OCD habit. I was surprised to see a sneer and a shaking head. There was no humor in the remark.

Wow, are we wound tight?! I was sad and bemused by the experience. That someone would be so irritated by my little organizing task seems out of proportion to anything that matters. For now I have concluded that shopping cart carelessness is a tiny but true indicator of social decay. Like a broken window, this little disorder seems to invite more. It’s bad when we stop noticing it; worse when we stop caring.

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