A crisis reveals our core values and beliefs. When a tornado or hurricane strikes, some of us donate to charities, put our shoulders to clearing away the rubbish and help victims in our midst sift through the unimaginable chaos for the cherished memories of a lifetime.
So what is it in our psyche that drives many of us in the midst of the uncertainty of the coronavirus to empty grocery shelves with the feeding frenzy of a school of piranhas? It is one thing to be prepared; it is quite another to hoard. And why is toilet paper seemingly the most valuable item for panicked shoppers?
Psychologists suggest that stockpiling gives people a sense of control when they otherwise feel powerless. We would add that a lack of public leadership at the highest levels only feeds public panic. When it looks like those in charge don’t have a handle on the problem, more than a few people will do the only thing within their power — stockpile for the uncertain times ahead.
The problem comes when this goes beyond good planning and feeds irrational behavior. That causes shortages for everyone else, and creates particularly acute problems for those of meager means who can’t buy much in advance. So we’d add that all of us have the opportunity to lead ourselves and make good decisions for our families and our communities by buying what we need, not filling every inch of the hall closet with goods we’ll never use.
We appreciate that the White House on Sunday told the American people that grocery stores will remain open. That’s a message that needs to be repeated to quell panic buying.
There have been other times in our history when we have faced challenges that changed our lives, and as a nation we have emerged on the other side. During World War II, the nation survived mandatory rationing for the greater good of allocating resources to the war effort. The quaint patriotic notion of what you do impacts others united the nation.
In many ways, we live in a different world. Generations of families used to live in the same community, if not the same house, providing a psychological cushion that comes with sharing and working together to rise above a crisis. Now we often live in isolation in our communities, not knowing or trusting our neighbors, or even knowing their names or what they do for work.
Also, we as a nation have lost the ability to make and fix things with our hands; many of us can’t cook so we are reliant on others and become fearful when our comfortable options are placed in doubt. Our politics also reinforce isolation, from lawmakers who can’t cross the political aisle to break bread, to the growing sentiment that we can wall off ourselves indefinitely from the rest of the world.
We can make it through this if we follow some simple rules. Buy what you need, but don’t hoard. Grocery stores are continuing to restock shelves and there is no indication that those supply chains are at any risk of shutting down. Grocers wisely are beginning to limit purchases of toilet paper and certain other items to make sure that available product doesn’t end up mostly in the hands of panic buyers or profiteers.
The coronavirus poses a serious health threat for older Americans and those who have underlying health conditions. Americans will have to make adjustments to lifestyles and plan differently. Planning is good; hoarding that creates artificial shortages isn’t.
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