Have you ever been shopping online, browsing at an item, only to notice a note right next to the “Add to Cart” button that reads “Low stock!”? Even better, maybe “Only 1 left!”? How does that make you feel, even reading that now?
I know how it makes me feel.
Damn, I need to get me one of those, right about NOW.
Oh, wait! There are 2 left?? Well, I’ll take both then. Just to be safe, right?
Do you ever wonder why that works? Oldest trick in the book, but maybe that reaction we both just had is why. You’re not sure if you want it until you discover you might not be able to have it. Then, whoever’s trying to stop you better step aside because IT. IS. ON.
Ever thought you’d feel that way about toilet paper? Well, now you know. Your deeply hidden hoarding-as-a-form of survival human instinct knows no bounds. But, is it really just showing up now? And just over paper products? Likely not. More on that in a moment.
At this particular moment, we humans are soaking up some unusual times. A little fella you need a microscope to see is doing some serious global networking, and wreaking massive havoc along the way. Talk about a Napoleon complex. Meanwhile, daily routines are halted, and all the things we thought defined us as individuals are up in the air.
Well…there, or in our carts.
Human existence is defined by uncertainty. We don’t know how we got here, what we’re supposed to be doing here, and what happens when we leave. So, choosing between existential panic and latching on to a false sense of control, we choose the latter. We make choices based on experience, and move forward with plans based on what we know. Most of the time, that sort of works. Some of the time, it doesn’t.
Life gets disruptive, we get shook, and then before long, things go back to normal. Despite that evidence, we proceed yet again thinking we’re in control.
Then, once in a while, something big happens. We are faced with the reality that we are clearly NOT in control of every variable we encounter. So, what next?
SEEK CONTROL. Aka, try to catch Jello-o with your hands.
When humans feel unsafe or insecure about their well-being, we do things that make us feel better. At this moment in the Spring of 2020, that looks like hoarding everything from anti-bacterial soap (for a virus??) to Doritos. We grab everything we can possibly imagine wanting from what we see before us, and we tuck it away.
In other words, we hoard it, and then we hide it.
So, let’s explore this behavior. What happens when supply is calibrated based on predictable data regarding demand, and then demand changes dramatically and suddenly? Yup, the supply goes away faster. What about when demand per capitachanges dramatically and suddenly? The supply goes away faster, with uneven distribution across demand, and much of the demand is left unmet.
People start feeding their fears in their decisions, instead of meeting their needs.
For example, in a place where a lot people very recently had their daily toilet paper needs met, now some people have enough for a lifetime, and other people are wondering “is that flushable?” Plus, if you’re looking for toilet paper on discount right now, save your precious eyesight because it’s a myth from a time long gone by. Spikes in demand do not lead to consumer-friendly costs.
Just in case this isn’t resonating, let me frame this a different way.
Have you ever found out that you were in the running for the same job opportunity as someone you knew, maybe even liked? How did that make you feel? Stop with the politeness and tell me how it REALLY made you feel.
Like you’re the one who deserved alllll the toilet paper, right? If that job was sitting on a shelf, you would have taken it, and any other jobs around it, just to have options. You’re not a horrible person, you’re just a human wired to preserve your own survival. However, there’s something that gets in the way of us just beating each other over the head every day to snatch and grab all the stuff, and the opportunities.
At some point, we have to decide to share.
It’s one thing to swipe the last can of beans out from under a stranger’s nose, and another to deny it to a person you know. And how about a person you love? Well, of course they can have your beans. That’s different. But, it’s not, though. Humans are humans, whether they’re “your” humans or not. We are all somebody’s, and truthfully, we are all each other’s, too.
Survival feels different in community than it does in isolation. Communities care for each other. They funnel their instinct for self-preservation into the collective. Sometimes, they make sacrifices, for the good of the whole, or the good of the few who need resources the most.
There are moments when we have to make choices that define us as humans. We have to look beyond the empty six-foot radius around us, and recognize that while we can’t offer hugs right now, we can offer something even better.
We can be up to something bigger than our individual selves. We can make sacrifices for the good of the whole, and especially the vulnerable among us. We can put the extra 50-pack of toilet paper down, take a deep breath, and move on home.
We can stop being afraid of being temporarily uncomfortable alone, and seek the comfort of choosing to face the unknown together. We can loosen our grip on the sense of control we never really had to begin with, and embrace the possibility that good can emerge from even the strangest, darkest times. With any luck, and a few good choices, that good might just be you.
Photo credit: Kai Oberhäuser