No items on the shelf are better than one…
Here’s a question for you: when you go to the grocery store and find only two units of something — say, skimmed milk, or bread rolls, or popcorn, or crisps — do you bag both of them, or do you leave one behind for someone else?
Many people say that if they need them both, they bag them.
Which begs the question: what do you do if you don’t need them both? Do you still bag them?
Even in the worst times of austerity the choices are plenty…
Many people find the question moot.
But you wouldn’t know it. It sounds moot because it’s a mountain-out-of-a-molehill-issue. I mean, we live in a society of plentitude, don’t we? We have options. Even in times of austerity the choices are plenty. If there’s no more skimmed milk, there’s always semi-skimmed milk, or somewhat skimmed milk, or the full-fat curd to choose from. There’s always a different-size container available, and many kinds of bread to settle on, and various flavors of crisps and sundry.
It’s not as if bagging the two remaining items on the shelf is going to deprive anyone of his or her nourishment.
Still, I like to leave one behind, just in case. Call it silly or naive, but I like it. Why deprive someone of the option to take something back home that day, if I don’t need to buy the lot?
Lately, though, I’ve been breaking that rule. Each time I find myself looking at a specific product section with two or three items left, I pinch them all and move on.
It’s a horrible thing to do. I feel guilty, small-hearted.
Despite not feeling comfortable with it, I’ve rationalized my behavior in terms of the ongoing holiday shopping-spree mode (during December) and the post-Christmas blues after that, which ‘make me want to buy stuff.’ Plus, I’m swamped and don’t have time to waste. Taking an extra trip to the store is a drag. I want to minimize my trips and maximize my purchasing.
Yet, as reasonable as it sounds, I can’t get over my choices.
It becomes worse when taking into consideration the fact that I’m aware of my choice.
It’s called ‘complicity.’ I’m fully aware of doing something against my better judgment, yet do it anyway.
The fact that I’ve justified my actions to myself also spells corruption. I’m reaping the benefits of what I consider to be an immoral act, which I have somehow made ‘less unacceptable’ through conscious rationalization.
This is a moral failure.
If I were religious, I would call it a sin.
Let Him Without Sin Grab The Last Item
I was indeed troubled by this new behavior of mine over these past few weeks, not feeling good about myself, unable to come to terms with it, until I talked to someone presumably familiar with the grocery store industry.
He was short, stocky and bald. His hands were rough like canvass, his teeth worn out and yellowish. He wore a black leather jacket. He was a friend of a friend of an acquaintance.
Our conversation was brief but illuminating. No sooner had we begun talking, I told him about my preference to leave an item behind for others.
I am reaping the benefits of what I consider to be an immoral act, which I have somehow made ‘less unacceptable’ through deliberate rationalization
‘Offering them a gift, are you?’ he grinned.
I didn’t appreciate the sarcasm but made nothing of it.
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Sort of. I don’t see the need to hoover up the last remaining items of something.’
‘What stuff are we talking about?’
‘I don’t know. Cookies, popcorn, pasta. Salt and vinegar crisps…’
‘You’re talking about non-perishables.’
‘I guess so, yes.’
‘Items that are probably in stock in the back of the store.’
‘Mate,’ he scoffed, ‘Listen. Empty shelves cost money, so the staff are instructed to replenish all depleted stocks. If an item is available, they don’t waste time filling up the empty section. But,’ and here he smiled wickedly, ‘the fact of the matter is that an employee is almost twice as likely to replenish a completely depleted section than one with a single item left in it.’
‘So, what you’re saying is…’
‘Empty shelves are replenished faster on average.’
He chuckled. ’If you’re so worried about others,’ and here he raised his eyebrows, shrugging his shoulders, ‘empty the bloody shelf. Santa will fill it up in half the time, and everyone’s fucking jolly.’
‘An employee is almost twice as likely to replenish a completely depleted section than one with a single item left in it…’
‘Including the store,’ I scoffed back.
He caught my jab, but didn’t make much of it.
‘You’re right, it sounds exactly like a grocery store mantra. “The more you buy, the better off everyone is.” But — sorry to break it to you, mate — the truth is that the numbers don’t lie. Bare shelves are replenished faster.’
He downed his beer and stared at his glass. ‘I like the word replenished,’ he said. ‘It has a nice ring to it.’
He pointed to my almost empty pint glass, then to the others, who were halfway through their drinks.
‘Want another one?’
‘Want me to wait for them to finish before I order another round?’
I was thirsty. I wasn’t about to say no.
Part 2 to follow…