While we were picking out some fruit for our lunches this week, I noticed a 20-something girl picking through the broccoli. As she was shoving a floret into her bag, she brushed the display and three more tumbled over the edge and onto the floor by her feet. Without even bothering to look around, she picked them up, shoved them into her bag, tied it shut and dropped it into her cart.
As we wandered our separate ways, I was left to ponder on the question of whether she did that because she in an inherently reasonable person, or if she knew that people saw what she had done.
It led me to wonder about the larger question of why people do the right thing.
If you follow the teachings of many major religions, they tend to preach that we are always being watched and judged, not by each other, but by an all-seeing being or beings. The implicit suggestion behind many of their doctrines is that if humans were not under constant observation, the world would lapse into a chaotic mess of self-serving moral turpitude.
On the other hand, I think that people are generally well-behaved. I believe we are hard-wired, on average, to do the right thing. I think it was inevitable that we are that way, because we evolved as a community species where we could only thrive in an atmosphere of mutual trust. I think that's why most of us feel irritation when we see somebody throw his fast food containers out the window of the car when he's driving down the highway. People like him are an anomaly who put their individual convenience above the communal good.
I believe that most people would have put the broccoli in their bag, rather than kicking it under the shelf, or putting it back in the bin for the next person.
In short, I still harbour a naive faith in humanity.