The amount of work that people will avoid in the claim of saving time is nothing short of impressive. It’s not the outright procrastination that I have in mind here – that’s another conversation for another day. But the little bits of work that people will avoid, particularly at the end of a task, truly believing that it’s either earning them extra time in their day or that it’s not worth the effort it would take to follow through on a commitment.

The drop in the bucket that really sparked this idea was shopping carts – every time I go to the grocery store the parking lot is littered with stray carts that were not given the appropriate respect and put in their right place. If you feel that the use of the word ‘respect’ is a bit heavy for a shopping cart, be assured that I don’t use it lightly. Let’s break down why it’s important to give such serious consideration to a shopping cart.

It’s not the cart itself that deserves such respect. Though you can if you like; it is a well engineered vehicle designed to withstand tens of thousands of rolls around the store with a limit of several hundred pounds of cargo. Hell, some even have wheels that lock up when they get too far away from the store. (None I’ve seen, evidenced by the fact that they could qualify as a small community just by the number of them that are scattered around, well, most neighbourhoods in the city.) The respect that is deserved is in your choices regarding how to handle the cart.

When I see people that leave carts in the middle of the parking lot I have yet to see any of those people with what one might characterize as a joyful expression. Usually they look bored at best, embittered at worst. As if the burden of pushing the cart around has already been too much. And I’m not talking about people that may have physical difficulty with it. On the same day I took the picture featured in this article I saw a lady returning a cart as I was exiting the store. She must have been at least eighty years old and right after she settled the cart into the corral she then literally limped back to her vehicle. She was able enough to get it in the first place, so she was able enough to put it back.

The one that gets me more than simply abandoning a cart is the people I have seen walk it towards the corral and then give it a heave from about twenty feet away, leaving it to find its own way home. I have not seen any of the carts in those situations hit their mark. They tend to jam themselves in the edge of the corral and leave a disjointed mess. Mostly though, they just miss altogether. The expressions and body language I have seen in those cases were akin to a child that was being punished with some undesirable chore around the house, not that of a dignified and balanced adult consciously going about their business. It’s as if they didn’t realize they have finished growing up and are operating in the same world as everybody else. Stuck in a life of perpetual burden, they repeat the jaded actions of a person on autopilot which is never quite in line with the life they feel they deserve.

The aspects of these moments that are so dangerous to each participant personally is the lack of respect for finishing a job. The lack of respect for maintaining the order of a system that many other people would appreciate, or at least rather not be encumbered by, its smooth operation. The lack of respect for taking responsibility for a task that they consciously chose to perform – treating their own choices as if they are a detestable exercise assigned by some higher power. The lack of respect for the interconnected nature of things. When someone deems a shopping cart return too daunting or worthless of a task I guarantee there are many other seemingly small parts of their lives that they shortcut.

A lesson that I have learned over many years of screwing myself over in all shapes and sizes is that you can not contain any activity or attitude to one part of your life. Those that refuse to return a cart are the same folks that stock up an inventory of goods while in the store, see something better or reevaluate what they have taken, then unload some of the items onto the nearest shelf and walk away. I regularly see a package of ground beef that has been offloaded in the cereal aisle, perhaps long enough for it to warm up to room temperature and start to go bad. Does it get put back in time? If it doesn’t, is the store protocol thorough enough to assess the quality of the now vagrant meat? Will the employee that finds the meat follow such a protocol even if it exists?

These meat abandoners and those that shun the careful consideration of our collective carts are the folks that always have something to complain about; something that isn’t the way they would like it but they don’t have the awareness or the desire to claim responsibility for it. I don’t like my job, my car costs me too much money, I can’t get rid of the fat on my belly. Unaware of the power of their ability to change their lives, they refuse to tackle the small inconveniences and wonder why the large ones are out of alignment while somehow thinking they are disconnected from each other.

But discipline is one of the magic tricks of a joyous life. Returning your shopping cart isn’t merely an action you perform and then have it disappear from experience as if it never happened. When done regularly it builds that last five percent of effort into your habits. Before long it will no longer feel like a chore, you’ll do the work almost out of reflex. The voice in your head that’s been telling you that you don’t have time to do it will grow quieter as it is proven wrong again and again. Tasks that are porportionate in the required effort will now seem easier as that part of your neural pathways is given a new perspective. Your baseline for what is deemed a chore is moved up which lightens the load on your whole day. It’s now much easier to finish folding the laundry – after all it only takes about two minutes and it’s become routine enough that it doesn’t require the energy needed to put any real thought into it. You find yourself humming a little while you’re folding it, your brain completely unaware that it is in fact doing a chore. Until you’re finished of course. Where it really pays off is when you wake up in the morning and your socks and underwear are neatly tucked into their drawer instead of in a heap downstairs in the dryer. The dishes have been dried and put away (instead of washed and forgotten, a past effort that left you with the thought of “well at least I washed them. Good enough!”) The clean and easy space around you makes it easier to get up and get some breakfast going. Your mind is clearer as it doesn’t have to choose between guilt or indifference towards the unattended chores you’ve left for yourself.

So please, take a moment to give due respect to your shopping cart. It, the same as everything else that becomes part of your day, is not just an object that will come in and out of your life without any meaning. It is an extension of you and a reflection of the kind of life you give to yourself. Do you wish some things in your life could be different? Take an honest look at the little things and how you treat them. Do the best job you can muster on the smallest and easiest corners of your life and go from there. That small seed of care will take such overwhelmingly good care of all of us, all it needs is for us to learn to nurture it.

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