Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: For Goodness Sake #SOL17
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Slice of Life: For Goodness Sake #SOL17

I want to be the person who returns her shopping cart to the designated space.

Really, I do.

It is that moment when you finish putting your groceries in the car and the to-do list in your mind begins to race.  So much to do, so little time.  You are faced with a moment of truth.  Do you just sneak the cart up on the curb?  Do wedge it between the cars?  Or … do you take the time to return it to the designated area?  Truth be told, I have snuck and wedged in the past.  It may seem like a small thing, I know.  Recently, however, it is feeling more significant to me.

Why is my to-do list, my needs in that moment, more important than the needs of those around me?  How do I know if someone else’s life is far more harried than mine?  Is it okay for me to save time, but putting the burden on someone else?  Grocery stores create a space for returned carts because it is a system that considers the greater good.  When we follow the system maybe:

  • there are more available parking spaces for everyone
  • fewer cars get dings and scratches
  • fewer accidents occur due to obstructed vision
  • fewer injuries are caused by runaway carts

Who knows?

Not returning the cart is just the beginning of convincing ourselves that little actions don’t matter.  Once I pull my car out of the parking lot, I have no idea the impact of my actions.  I did not intend to do harm by not returning the cart, but I did choose to not think of the greater good.  Over time, I think this has an impact.  Not just in the parking lot, but in our mindset.  We get into the habit of not thinking about the impact of our actions on others – the little things we ignore because we decide it doesn’t matter.

Last week, I watched a young boy help his mom unload the cart.  She was arranging the bags in the back of the car and he set off to return the cart to its proper place.

“What are you doing?” his mom asked.

“Going to return the cart,” he chanted as he skipped along.

“No, no.  Come back.  We need to get going.  We are late,” she replied.

“But I’m almost there.  I will be quick and run back,” he argued

“No. I told you to come back now.  We need to go.  Just put the cart over there,” she pointed to the grass in front of the car.

“But it’s supposed to go over there,” he implored.

“It doesn’t matter.  Let’s go,” she ended the conversation and got into her car.

I am making no judgments on this mother – I already admitted I have done the same thing and I can hear her words coming out of my mouth with my own sons.  On this day, at that moment, however, this interaction caused me to pause and reflect on the messages we are sending ourselves, each other and our children when we decide the pace of life is more important than considering the needs of those around us.

We could substitute so many things in that interaction:

  • picking up a piece of trash
  • helping someone open a door
  • noticing someone drop something and giving it to them
  • cleaning up in the lunchroom
  • putting materials back in the classroom
  • carefully putting our things away
  • cleaning up a spill so others don’t slip
  • clearing walking paths so other don’t trip
  • offering to help someone who is struggling
  • walking down the hallway quietly
  • returning a book so others can use it
  • respecting materials that are communally shared

There are systems in many communities that are designed to consider the greater good.  How do we decide which are important and which can be ignored?  When we choose to ignore one, what do our children learn?  If our kids learn more by watching us, what are we modeling?

In some ways it is a pretty small thing to return my cart and in other ways it is not.  I need to remember to ask myself, what is so important in my life that won’t allow an extra minute to be a contributing member of my community.   I plan to slow down, remember that there is rarely anything on my list that is more important than those around me, and return my cart.




  • Avatar
    Margaret Simon
    Posted at 10:57h, 03 October Reply

    Your post has really made me think this morning. We do need to consider our actions and how they affect the greater good. You’ve convinced me to put my cart back. But also to look closely at the other things I do (or don’t do) that may affect others in the long run. Thanks!

  • Avatar
    Kathleen Sokolowski
    Posted at 11:12h, 03 October Reply

    This is such a powerful post! Each action has consequences. I will think of you and the power to do good every time I return my cart.

  • Avatar
    Erika Victor
    Posted at 12:04h, 03 October Reply

    One of our schoolwide learning results is “living ethically” and I always use dilemmas like yours to demonstrate how hard this is to do at all times. I get you on the judging others on things I know I have been guilty of- so hard! Just like you, I am trying to be a better person, but it is not a straight path. I like your final reminders.

  • Avatar
    Stacey Shubitz
    Posted at 14:27h, 03 October Reply

    All of these little things add up to big things and it is what makes our communities places we want to live in versus places we wish to move from.

    I’m one of those rule-following cart returners. (I bet you suspected that.) Right now I’m training Isabelle to help me return it. (She loves pushing it into the return kiosk with great force.) I never really thought about this cart-returning as working to make the world a better place, but maybe it is. Small steps, right?

  • Avatar
    Posted at 14:42h, 03 October Reply

    I love this post! (although I almost missed it because of the assessment tag, but Stacey recommended it!) I do believe every little thing matters and they add up to big things. I intend to share this with my teacher’s writing club as a spark for their own writing.

  • Avatar
    Samantha Schubert
    Posted at 01:34h, 04 October Reply

    I love this post also. I have always insisted on being a “cart returner.” I can’t think of a time where I let my hectic schedule deviate me from returning my shopping cart. Taking the few extra steps and seconds to do the little things goes a long way.

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 02:37h, 04 October Reply

    I read your post earlier, and I didn’t have time to comment then. It’s stuck with me, Clare. We all nee to pay more attention to the common good–love that as a concept. I do always return grocery carts, but I could pay more attention to come of your substitutions. I wish you lived closer. I always feel in sync with you.

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