OK, so here’s the scenario. You’re pulling into a supermarket parking space when you notice an abandoned trolley in your way. Do you:
(a) get out and move it.
(b) find another parking space.
(c) use your car as a battering ram to knock the trolley out of the way so it rolls into someone else’s car.
Well the answer, of course, is (c).
Or it is if you’re a 60-something-year-old man in a certain South Coast town, driving a nice big shiny car. You successfully knock the trolley out of your way and into the parked car, you get out and you stride purposefully towards the supermarket without so much as a backward glance.
So here’s the next scenario. You witness the above incident while taking your elderly mother shopping – indeed there was a 50-50 chance that the car hit by the runaway trolley could have been yours. Do you:
(a) do nothing.
(b) shout abuse at the fleeing driver.
(c) run after him, abandoning your elderly mother swaying beside the car, and respectfully suggest that he moves the trolley away from its resting place against someone else’s car.
Well the answer is again of course (c). Not necessarily a wise or smart response, but it’s what happened.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea,” I asked Trolley Man, grinning inanely, puffing from the effort of running after him, “if one of us moved that trolley back off the side of that car.”
“It wasn’t me who left the trolley in the middle of the car park,” came the indignant response.
“Well no indeed,” I say, still smiling, blood pressure soaring, “but you did knock it out of the way with your car so that it ran into the other car. I just think one of us should probably move it. To be fair to the other driver.”
Silence. Trolley Man has no words.
“I’m happy to do it,” I say. “I just think one of us should.”
Huffily, grumpily, he stomps back to the trolley and doesn’t just move it from its resting place against the car, he actually wheels it all the way back to a trolley park. Wow! Such public-spirited behaviour!
The act of challenging such divas (or right Toscas, if you prefer) is probably a bad idea. If Trolley Man had been younger or scarier I probably wouldn’t have bothered or dared. Anti-social behaviour is often best left unchallenged, if only for self-preservation purposes.
But the incident got me thinking how certain groups of people get classified according to their worst-behaving members, while others don’t. For example: one teenager behaving badly will broadly be seen by most people as evidence that the youth of today are all dreadful. One person from an ethnic minority behaving badly will be seen as proof that they’re all dodgy (especially to Daily Mail readers, who come with that view as a factory-fitted mindset). One court report involving a traveller family will be seen as proof that all travellers are lawbreakers.
But one retired, white Englishman behaving badly? Well he was probably just having a bad day, or in a hurry, or something. We draw no broader conclusions at all about the behaviour of his ethnic group, his age group or his gender.
A few days after the Trolley Man incident, I overheard some schoolboys in the same town issuing their farewells in the street, as their bicycle routes diverged. “F*** you,” shouted one. “Yeah f*** you too.” It continued in that cheery vein for a few minutes, before the group split up. One boy cycled off singing a song which certain sections of society would have found highly offensive. Proof that the youth of today are terrible? No, proof that those few boys have a rather limited vocabulary and world view.
I hope Trolley Man thinks twice before he commits potential criminal damage (trolleycide?) again, but I wish too we’d all learn to stop classifying entire groups on the basis of the behaviour of the worst few.