The next time you shop at Aldi, you might get something unexpected: Positive human interaction with strangers.
If you haven’t shopped at the grocer before, it has some unusual cost-cutting measures. For instance, you must put a quarter in a slot to unlock a grocery cart from just outside the store, with the knowledge you’ll get your 25 cents back once you return the cart to the proper location.
Essentially, it eliminates those feral shopping carts you see rolling around in most parking lots.
This is where a cost-cutting move turns into an experiment in connecting with strangers. Many times when you’re leaving the store, you’ll see someone who is about to get a fresh cart.
You’re faced with three distinct possibilities:
• You can just push your cart in, connect the chain and recover your quarter. You leave with what’s owed to you.
• You can offer your cart to the new customer, accepting the quarter they were about to put in the slot to get a cart. They’ll generally be gracious, since you’ve saved them the trouble of shoving the coin in and jostling to get the cart freed.
• You can offer your cart to the next customer but decline their money. You’ve made a 25-cent investment in improving your mood and theirs.
I find myself selecting that third option more and more. I’m not a generous enough person with my money, so I hadn’t realized just how grateful people can be when you make a quarter-valued investment in their day.
I’ve received some nice thoughts from people, having a pleasant, short verbal exchange with them as we do this. Their well-wishes range from “God bless you” to one that will stick with me, when a man said it was the nicest thing anyone’s done for him in a while, and it restored his faith in humanity. It only cost me a quarter.
I’ve been on both sides of it too. I try to be equally grateful if I’m walking into the store, accept a cart and its previous user shoos away my effort to hand them a coin.
Yes, it’s a silly little thing, but the world needs more silly little things that show we’re not a completely self-centered, broken society. People are so absorbed by their technology and their own plans. It’s good to lift up your eyes occasionally and see how you might be able to help, even a little bit.
We need more gestures that show we understand there are other people in the world, and that world doesn’t revolve around us. We need opportunities to be thoughtful and courteous. We need more chances to prove to the world there are still decent people around us.
David Trinko is managing editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.