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Thursday, September 1, 2011

There Are Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who think those who think there are two kinds of people in the world are self-righteous jerks.

A listener called me to task concerning a story about a man who told his son there are two kinds of people: those who return their shopping carts and those who don't.

His first point was that it's dangerous and foolish to use simplistic categorizations. On this I have to agree, although I didn't think the father who divided the world into two categories was being literal. I think he was making the point that we all have endless choices – either to do the right thing instinctively and consistently or to join those who find excuses not to. The original story came from a book Hugs for Dad by John William Smith. I don't know if it's literally true or not, but it's a powerful parable.

His second point was that he objected to the implication that anyone who doesn't return shopping carts is falling short on any scale of virtue. "As long as markets pay union wages and benefits to employees to collect these carts," he said, "I shouldn't reduce the amount of their work."

This rationale ignores the story's main message: Be considerate, clean up after yourself, and make life easier, not harder, for the next guy. Under his analysis, we help custodians and housekeepers by making a mess.

I don't think I was a bad person when I didn't return shopping carts, but I think I'm a little bit better now that I do. You see, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to be better and those who don't.
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