Romer: Doing the right thing is the right thing | VailDaily.com
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Romer: Doing the right thing is the right thing

This pandemic has shown us the best and worst in humanity. As the great Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This may never be more true that now.

Consider the viral “Shopping Cart Theory.” This theory proposes that an individual’s moral character can be determined by whether they choose to return a shopping cart to its designated spot after use or whether they simply leave it wherever it suits them.

Based on the concept, “To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as correct, the appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it.”

It is interesting that the shopping cart theory has gone viral during the COVID pandemic. To be clear, I don’t think this is not about being a do-gooder; it’s about being human and getting what you want while serving others at the same time. Are you a “good” person by returning your shopping cart or a “bad” person by not returning your cart. Like many things, it is clearly not that cut and dried.

Scientific American explored the shopping cart theory and rightfully concluded “The world will likely not end because we aren’t returning our shopping carts — that would be an amazing butterfly effect — but it’s an example of a quality of life issue we can control. That guy who didn’t return his cart may not be a complete jerk. He may just be using the example set by others so he can get home a little more quickly. But if everyone does that, then we’re shifting the balance of what is acceptable, which may have greater ramifications to the social order. We have a greater influence over seemingly mundane situations than we realize.”

Epidemiology updates provided by local and national experts indicate that much of the disease transmission is still occurring in private settings. This includes between household members when someone is sick and during private social gatherings, such as parties, BBQs, social drinking, camping, etc. Although our county will be impacted to what is happening in other parts of the country, our local incidence for COVID-19 is not solely impacted by travelers. 

These trends are happening throughout Colorado and the nation, and there is also transmission occurring more within certain types of work, such as construction and hospitality, especially in carpool/rideshare situations. 

We cannot prevent every new case … and preventing every case should not be the goal. It’s not the new cases that are crippling our schools, businesses, sports leagues, and economy. It is the public health quarantine and isolation orders that do the damage and we do our part to mitigate both the public health and economic damage by choosing to do the right thing.  

Using the shopping cart theory as a baseline, one thing is certain: simple things can be a test of our character. How do we address continue to address COVID-19 in our community? Much like the simple task returning your shopping cart, we can follow the five commitments of containment; wear a mask; avoid large public gatherings; and practice social distancing.


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