The 2014 mid-term elections are approximately five months away. And with that time frame, it’s not surprising that there’s a horde of survey-conducting companies out there frantically gathering data that ends up on the desks of the political-messaging mavens. Of course, it’s not just candidates, political parties, or election-year special-interest groups that want to find out what you’re thinking, what you’re buying, how much you earn, who you cohabit with, or why you choose to adhere to a particular attitude or belief.
Surveys are ubiquitous. There are surveys to find out if the tone of the human or electronic voice on the customer-service line encourages you to park your money with one bank or another. There are supermarket surveys to help retailers gauge the popularity of the products on their shelves or discover whether customers will buy more fruit juice if the containers are displayed in aisle one next to the bottled water or in aisle three next to the sodas. There are baby-product surveys, hotel and restaurant surveys, surveys in airports and at national parks. Surveys determine fans’ favorite sports players or movie stars. Surveys identify the most admired or most disliked celebrities. Surveys collect information on your sex life and seek to determine your most intimate habits.
The list of surveys could go on well into the middle of the night. And the truth is that even as we sleep, the gigantic data-mining monster called the Internet is churning through algorithms to gather information that can be sold to the highest bidders and exploited for the bottom line of companies and corporations.
I hope, however, that who we are is more than just the sum total of our consuming habits—whether of the material or the political kind. I’d like to believe that thinking about other kinds of questions—the ones other than those that the survey industry deem important—is still an important exercise in self-awareness. Socrates summed it up best when he said that the “unexamined life is not worth living.”
But how, exactly, do we approach that examination? If we follow the example of the survey companies, we ask the relevant questions. In this case, the questions are “Who are we? “ “How does one live a good life?” “Is the moral life defined as one lived with concern for others and not just ourselves?” Those are the big questions, and, as we all know, you won’t find them probed by the questions posed by run-of-the-mill marketing or political surveys.
So just when you thought every possible nook and cranny of your personal profile has already been probed, dissected, and pigeon-holed here comes yet another survey. This one, I hope, is different. I’ve composed it in a slapdash, unscientific manner using a few of the most common moral dilemmas of everyday life to help you mine through your own behavior to see where you fall on the social-consciousness—or, as it’s also known, the good life—scale. Scoring where exactly you fall on that scale I leave to your own good conscience.
Here are a few of those daily conundrums in no particular order of importance:
1. Once you’ve unloaded your groceries into your car at your local supermarket, do you return your shopping cart to the cart corral or do you leave it behind in the middle of your parking spot and drive away, thus blocking the next driver’s use of that parking spot?
2. If a cashier gives you back a $10 bill rather than a $5 bill after you’ve made a purchase, do you point out the error and ask for the correct change or do you walk out of the store feeling lucky?
3. When driving on unlit country roads at night, do you turn off your brights when an oncoming car approaches on the other side of the road? Or do you ignore how you’re blinding the other driver and leave the brights on because you’re concerned solely with your own safety and not the safety of the other driver?
4. Do you cruise in the passing lane no matter how slow your car’s speed, forcing other drivers to drive in an unsafe manner by passing you on the right?
5. When walking your dog in a public space, do you always pick up your dog’s poop, bag it, and throw it in the nearest trash bin? Or do you walk away from the pile as quickly as possible, pretending that it was already on the sidewalk when you and Max walked by and assume that eventually someone else will clean it up for you?
6. If you’re rushing to work in the morning and you see someone take a bruising fall on the sidewalk, do you stop and offer your help? Or do you assume someone else with a bit more time or a less important job description will stop and offer a hand?
7. Do you decide to rearrange the furniture in the living room of your upstairs apartment at two o’clock in the morning, acting impulsively on your need for an improved decorating scheme while ignoring the inconvenient fact that you might be disturbing the sleep of a toddler in the bedroom below?
8. When you’re driving on a busy freeway and there’s a line of cars for the off-ramp, do you join the queue? Or do you ignore the line and drive past the idling cars and push your way in at the front, pretending that you just remembered at the last moment that this is indeed your exit?
9. If there’s a block-long queue for the first showing of the latest blockbuster movie, do you take your place politely at the back of the line or move toward the front as the line starts to inch forward and, avoiding eye contact, join a group of strangers who have just become your long-lost friends at the front of the line?
10. If you find a wallet with five one-hundred-dollar bills in it on the ground in a parking lot, do you turn in the wallet with all of its contents in tact to the nearest store manager? Do you secretly pocket the money first and then turn the wallet in? Or do you pocket the money, throw the wallet back on the ground, and ignore the possibility that the next person who picks it up might exploit the situation to buy a trip to the Bahamas using the credit card still contained in the wallet or perhaps to steal the identity of the wallet’s owner?