To return or not return your shopping cart… that’s the question boggling the minds of social media users across multiple platforms. Just search “shopping cart theory” and you’ll see folks giving their opinions on returning/not returning a shopping cart and how it determines a person’s character. To be clear, the theory implies that the person who returns their shopping cart is more considerate of others. To some, the person who does not return their cart is only concerned about themselves. But is it really that simple? Here’s a deeper look at the shopping cart theory. 

What Does the Shopping Cart Theory Mean?

In a tweet, a user asked if folks would return their shopping carts if no one was looking, opening a can of worms about habits and morals. The user alludes to the person who doesn’t return their cart being a “savage.” The idea that a person’s integrity can get roped into a discussion about shopping carts is eye-opening. It suggests that people feel entitled to devising judgments about your character solely based on the things that you do. And it’s not even like this is a recurring event or one that lasts over a certain period of time. In an instant, assumptions are made about whether someone would obey the law when no one is watching. 

Are You a “Good” or “Bad” Member of Society?

Classifications like “a good member of society” and “a selfish jerk” circulated in the comments responding to the user’s tweet, dividing people onto either side of the argument. And then there was the group of folks who found themselves in the middle, considering the gray area of emergencies, accessibility or simply being too tired. By leaving these variables out, though, both sides can cling to their opinions, some folks with a hint of elitism. TikTok’s @iammichaelkeith took a comical approach at explaining the ins and outs of the theory. The self-proclaimed “people-watcher” said that “if you’re too busy to make someone else’s job easier, then you’re selfish.”

Many social media users feel as though a person’s choices in these moments reflects on their character away from the grocery store which is the alleged, true concern. Although, no matter where you find yourself: on the return side, in the middle or on the “it doesn’t matter” side, this conversation goes deeper than shopping etiquette.

Do Your Best and Keep It Pushing, Literally

While thinking of others is to be celebrated, judging others for their actions in a single moment and creating summaries about a person around what you’ve perceived without any other context goes against that same moral code. The entire debacle may even have you asking yourself, “How often do I return my cart?” and “Does that ratio or percentage determine whether I’m good or not?”

Ultimately, the perception of you does not determine the real you. However, if you can return your cart, do so – to help the people around you. If you can’t because of an injury or fatigue, don’t beat yourself up about it. And if you never return them, consider reconsidering. Doing your part keeps the kindness going and that’s a recycle from which we all benefit.