Practicing charity in small matters

I was able to laugh at a video that came up on Facebook, but then again, as someone who always returns a shopping cart to the designated area, I may not have been the target for the video. Sponsored by BBC Scotland’s The Social, The Trolley Theory is a comedic illustration of doing the right thing for society.

In the United Kingdom, the term trolley is used for what Americans would call a shopping cart. In a very succinct presentation, The Trolley Theory uses the simple act of returning the trolley as a representation of what makes a good or bad member of society. It is “the apex example of what is right and what is so very wrong with free will.” This line got me thinking and I started to wonder about those who don’t return the trolley or cart to the corral. Would they find this video amusing as I did? Or would they be offended? Would they even care or would they shrug it off as some other person’s problem? 

What is wrong with free will, is that we are all free to make choices that affect others, while thinking that it has no effect on anyone but ourselves. Yet, it is in this “wrong” that others have the ability to step up and do more than what our “responsibility” is. Continuing with the example of a shopping cart, the store that I now frequent has two cart sizes. I love using the small one, as I don’t get much and it’s more easily maneuvered throughout the store. In the various parking lot corrals for the carts, there is supposed to be one lane for small carts and one for the big ones.  When the situation presents itself, I will align a cart or two in addition to the one I’m returning. It really doesn’t take much effort to do it, and I hope that by aligning the carts, others who are returning theirs will keep the alignment. I don’t have to do it, but then again — as the video points out — I don’t have to return the trolley either. 

The counterpoint to argue against the trolley theory is that returning the trolley is really a selfish act. What happens when no one returns the trolley/cart? The parking lot becomes a minefield of potentially moving self-autonomous weapons, ready to ding the side of your car or worse to roll into the path of your vehicle as you try to enter or leave the parking lot. During busy times at the grocery store, it’s hard enough to watch for pedestrians and other vehicles. Adding abandoned carts with the potential to move on their own from the slightest stirring of a breeze is a hazard that can be avoided by properly returning the cart. It may be selfish for me to want to reduce the number of moving possibilities as I navigate through the parking lot, but my selfish act is not just helping me, but others too. However, can an action be selfish if it benefits more than just the person committing it? 

You may be thinking, “A whole blog post about shopping carts? What does it all matter?” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” (Lk 16:10) It doesn’t matter if it’s money, time, speech, or shopping carts, little details matter. Even so, we shouldn’t use these items to be judgemental to others, but rather look and choose the opportunities that benefit others. If the circumstances allow your options to go beyond what you would normally do, then do it. These “small matters” give us the chance to practice charity towards others. And by practicing, we can increase the love we have for others and reflect the love that Jesus has for us.

“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” 

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

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