Editor's note: This is one in a series of commentaries by Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the Character Counts! coalition. He will speak Monday in Lawrence.
You can tell a lot about a person's character by how they act at the grocery store. I remember being in a crowded store where there was a shortage of shopping carts. A prosperous-looking fellow was pushing a cart when another man stopped him. "Excuse me," the second man said, "but this is my cart." The first guy looked really annoyed and, instead of apologizing, protested, "But someone took my cart." His wife glared at him and he reluctantly relinquished his ill-gotten gain. He had ignored the age-old wisdom "Two wrongs don't make a right" in favor of a distorted version of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as others have done unto you."
Then there are the folks who change their mind about buying some item after walking through the store and put it on the nearest shelf, rationalizing that the store hires people to put things back. Well, schools employ custodians to clean the halls, so does that mean it's OK for kids to throw their candy wrappers on the floor? And what about the people who won't take the extra 30 seconds to return a shopping cart to the collection area?
Finally, there are express-line cheaters who enter the "10 items or less" line with 14 items because they're in a hurry or simply because they love having a competitive edge.
They count on the fact that no one will call them on this moral misdemeanor, and even if someone does, they're ready to play lawyer: "It depends on what you call an item. I consider these melons part of the 'fruit group' and I count them as one."
Being considerate, playing by the rules and setting a good example are important, even in the grocery store.