Last week I was hearing stories of people buying up toilet paper in a coronavirus panic. At first, I thought it was a joke or just another internet hoax that people on social media fall for. But to my astonishment, it turned out to be true.
On the way home from church yesterday, I stopped by my neighborhood grocery store to restock the fridge as I do every week or so. I found about 20 percent of the shelf space empty which is unprecedented.
Last night I read a conversation on a neighborhood social media platform about people who actually need toilet paper for their family but can't find any. A nice lady on the forum was trying to make arrangements to get a few rolls from her personal supply to the family in need.
While reading through that social media thread, it occurred to me that we're creating our own crisis.
There's nothing about coronavirus as a disease that by nature has the power to stop the manufacturing and distribution of toilet paper, or anything else for that matter. Coronavirus is, well, a virus, pretty much like any other virus that goes around on a regular basis. There are always a few members of the workforce out with the flu on any given day, but factories don't shut down over it and 99 percent of the trucks keep on rolling.
The importation of foreign-made goods might be slowed due to restrictions, so you may want to stock up on cell phones, computers, and televisions so you don't miss any of the breaking news over the next few weeks. But the flow of most everyday goods, especially those made in the U.S., like toilet paper, should continue at about the same rate as usual.
In other words, store shelves are not empty due to a shortage of goods. Store shelves are empty because people are purchasing at an increased rate and the supply chain is not geared to keep up with such a sudden and unprecedented increase in demand. People are purchasing at this increased rate due to fear that there will be a shortage, which there will not be, except to the degree people cause a shortage by over-purchasing due to fear of a shortage. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The adage that we have nothing to fear but fear itself is being played out before our eyes.
It's always good to keep an extra supply of food and everyday supplies on hand. You never know when the power might go out for a few days, or a snowstorm or hurricane might close the highways and shutdown trucking in the region for a week or two. Keeping an extra few weeks' worth of supplies will get you through such times without any major inconveniences.
But letting fear drive us to panic-purchasing isn't the solution, it's the problem, especially at a time when there are no actual shortages except the ones we’re creating.
Fear is always the wrong answer. In every issue of life, from health to politics to the economy and beyond, fear will always drive us to the wrong course of action and make things worse, not better.
Coronavirus is extremely unlikely to kill you and there’s no actual shortage of goods. The only real threat we face is fear.
PS. I recommend turning off the TV news and all the hype and instead watching my pastor's message on "Dealing With The Fear