Return Your Grocery Cart

With speaking events scheduled in Nashville, Atlanta, and Orlando recently, I enjoyed the hospitality of five different hotels. Without naming the hotels because it is not entirely their fault, rude and inconsiderate conduct is apparently becoming common.

One morning, preparing to depart, I sought in vain for one of the complimentary luggage trolleys one usually sees in a corner of the lobby. Inquiring at the front desk about how I might obtain a luggage cart, I was told with a shrug that the hotel only has six of them and some guests take a trolley up to their rooms the night before checking out, to expedite their own departure in the morning.

Another morning at an airport gate while waiting to board a flight, a long line of wheelchair-bound passengers enjoyed priority boarding ahead of everyone else. There were so many of them that I concluded that a particularly virulent malady must have infected this part of the United States. After landing at our destination, I was not completely shocked to see that most of the formerly handicapped travelers had experienced miraculous recoveries. Elbowing other passengers aside, they raced up the aisle of the aircraft clutching their bags and kept up their headlong pace as they traversed the airport terminal. I mentioned to a tired-looking airline representative providing connecting flight information that this boisterous group had boarded on wheelchairs. She sighed and, peering around guardedly, she said, “We’re not allowed to challenge wheelchair requests.”

While driving to a speaking engagement in one of the southern cities I visited, I was contemplating what these examples of behavior signaled for the future of this land. I stopped at a crosswalk as two youths stepped off the sidewalk. They didn’t stride across the street. They didn’t even walk purposefully. Gazing defiantly at the by-now several cars that had stopped at the crosswalk they slowly ambled across the traffic lanes. Very slowly, more slowly than a stiff-jointed senior with a walker. Utterly indifferent to the waiting drivers kind of slowly.

Though I noticed several other similar incidents, I’ll tell you about just one more. This occurred in the vast parking lot of a big grocery market. Every lane of parking was provided with a brightly decorated little enclosure to which the shopping carts were to be returned. Nobody would have to walk very far to return a cart to the proper place. Yet I spotted several dozen shopping carts abandoned around the parking lot. Intrigued, I sat in my car for ten minutes to watch how this unfolds in real time. I saw fourteen shoppers transfer a few bags of groceries from the cart to their vehicle, push the cart into the next unoccupied parking space, climb into their cars and drive off. In that period of time, I saw just two shoppers wheel their carts a few yards to the nearby cart enclosure.

This is not a “what-is-the-world-coming-to?” diatribe. Though saddened by the behavior I witnessed, my reaction is less emotional and more analytical. I want to understand what, if anything, will happen to a country in which ever increasing numbers of residents (I don’t think I want to write “citizens”) act with no consideration whatsoever.

Even without the space to present a micro-analysis, I think we can safely assume that anything that diminishes trust and goodwill among the people of a specific society will harm the economy of that society. People choose to engage in transactions with those they know, like, and trust. One of the reasons that the United States became an unprecedented engine of prosperity was “e pluribus unum” — out of many, one. Not only was this 13-letter tribute to unity made part of the Great Seal of the U.S. in 1782, but it also became the unofficial motto of the young country.

Well before the 20th century, Americans were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, a shared commitment to an ideal that brought people together. It was unique at the time though since then, three or four other countries have tried to emulate it in the hopes of fostering the economic benefits it brought to America.

Whenever someone acts heroically and altruistically, others are uplifted and inspired. Onlookers smile at each other; strangers greet one another, and everyone feels more optimistic. One end result is that in one way or another, more business is done and wealth increases. It’s not hard to connect the dots. Large parts of a society feeling buoyant, optimistic, and warmly disposed towards others means an expanding economy.

Conversely whenever someone acts venally and inconsiderately, the opposite happens. Obviously, when much of the population feels resentful, hopeless, and at best, indifferent to everyone else, prosperity plummets. Acting inconsiderately is an act of economic sabotage. It may not be as immediate as vandalism or crime but in the fullness of time, countless incremental acts do add up.

How do you produce a population for whom dawdling across a street where a motorist has courteously stopped would be unthinkable?

The answer is religio-moral education in which consideration towards even inanimate objects is emphasized.

Leviticus 19:14 teaches that I may not entertain my friends by insulting a deaf person while disarming him with the false smile on my face. Though it does the deaf man no harm, it greatly desensitizes me to inconsiderate behavior and that, in time, dooms society.

The first three of Egypt’s ten plagues stand out because unlike all the other plagues, these were inflicted upon Egypt by Moses’ brother, Aaron. “And God said to Moses, tell Aaron to…” (Exodus 7:19, 8:1, & 8:12). Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why these first three plagues couldn’t have been triggered by Moses like the other seven?

The answer is that one should never do evil to whoever delivered you good. Moses was a direct beneficiary of the river and the sand. The former carried him as an infant in a little floating refuge to the arms of his protectress, the daughter of Pharaoh. (Exodus 2:3-5). The sand hid the corpse of the Egyptian that Moses killed, thereby affording him the opportunity to escape. (Exodus 2:12). Making the river an accessory to the plagues of blood and frogs, and the sand to the plague of lice had to happen. But it was to be done by Aaron who had never been a direct beneficiary of the river and the sand.

As a boy, I remember being taught of a certain rabbi who, when disposing of a used pair of worn out shoes, carefully wrapped them in a paper bag before consigning them to the trash. He would say, “These wonderful shoes have served me so faithfully for so long. It’s not fair to them that they might end up next to some smelly kitchen waste. At least I will give them the protection of the paper bag.”

Because of that long ago lesson, till today I am completely incapable of delaying a kind motorist by slowly sauntering across the street.

This Thought Tool is dedicated in memory of Neta Boaziz, a mother of three who was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova music festival on October 7, 2023.

And with prayers for the safe release of all the hostages, and among them we highlight Yosef-Haim Ohana, age 23. Yosef-Haim was kidnapped from the Supernova music festival on October 7, 2023, by Hamas terrorists. “He has a heart of gold,” his mother said. “I just want my son home, now. That’s my prayer and that’s my hope.”

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The Book of Ruth: Chorus of Connection

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