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It's Time to Stop Sh*tting on People Panic-Buying Toilet Paper

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Let me be frank. Life is really tough right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system. It’s scary, the future is uncertain, and there are so many developing parts that we are all collectively holding our breath. And these tenuous times are creating a mass consciousness of fear, of every man for himself, and the “winner takes all.” It is just a recipe for disaster.

And so we’re being judgy. It’s familiar and it’s the easier thing to do. It’s what we’ve always done as a society, and in this time where it feels like our world is falling apart, we are willing to grab onto any sense of normalcy, even if it is cruel.

So we scoff at the toilet paper buyers, as if what they are displaying is not something we also have thought about: that in this moment of crisis, we as individuals want to make sure we have something to wipe our bums with. It’s silly. Futile even. But it is a thought that has crossed everyone’s mind, even if it was a microsecond that became a fleeting thought. We’ve all been in a moment of panic. 

And if you happen to be the 1% who hasn’t had the toilet paper freak out, with or without the impulse buy, I’m sure you freaked out over something else. Maybe, it was cigarettes, food for your pets, maybe even stocking up on your prescription medications. But you’ve probably had your moment of panic at some point, so I kindly ask you to please stop judging. This is the time for vulnerability, empathy and being real. It’s time to accept that we are human, not perfect societal beings. By isolating and judging those who are in fear, we’re continuing in the cycle of panic buying.

Because that’s the problem here. Buying toilet paper is just a symptom of the bigger problem: fear. It is an external action to help soothe that scared part inside ourselves. The fact that it’s toilet paper doesn’t matter. It could be canned olives, horseradish, pickled herring, hot sauce, beeswax, paperclips or really any item that can be found in a store. The item itself does not matter. Because it is a symptom of a bigger problem: in the midst of fear, we have no safe space to talk about our individual human needs, however small. 

When we judge, we make others feel “less than,” in the hopes that if we make them feel crappy enough, they’ll change their ways. But it doesn’t work that way and it never has. All it does is continue to create an environment and norm that says, “You are actually alone.” It continues to spread the belief, “I’m alone in my fear. I’m alone in my panic. And if I share this fear, then I will be ostracized and judged by my peers.” So of course, the obvious choice in soothing our fear is to go and engage in panic buying. Because in those moments when items are dropped into that cart, people don’t feel unsafe anymore. They feel a bit more secure and grounded because they did something to soothe their anxiety. They showed up for that small part inside themselves that is scared and in need of comfort.  

So once again, for the people in the back: what we buy isn’t actually the problem. The emotion behind the purchase is what needs to be addressed and met with love and empathy. We have to love these people who are in fear because if we don’t, the mass panic will continue. When we don’t show up for one another and we continue to judge, to shame, blame and isolate individuals living in real fear, all we are doing is validating the belief that it actually is every man for himself. We are perpetuating the narrative that, in our misguided judginess, we are trying to change. 

So what really needs to happen is for all of us to show up for those people in fear and to love them through this. Because now more than ever, we need love. We don’t need fear, we don’t need shame and we definitely don’t need blame. We need love. We need to breathe it, feel it, express it and show it to everyone. To every person, and to every emotion that is expressed during this crisis. And if we could take the same empathy, support, and love that we are giving to our doctors, nurses, mental health workers, grocers, janitors, first responders and beyond for their continued selflessness in this crisis and offer it to those in fear, maybe then we can reduce and hopefully stop the cycle of fear, panic and isolation. 

And if we can stop judging, maybe we will be able to look back on this moment in history and say, “Wow, during a crisis we chose to break that cycle of shame and live from love.” We can be that generation that says, “No more” to letting people be alone in their fear and stops judging people for being human and showing the world just how scared they are. 

Maybe COVID-19 can be an opportunity for all of us to not only continue to celebrate, love and rally for those identified as selfless by our society, but to also rally with our empathy and love for those in our society who are scared, terrified and living in fear: for the people who are harder to love. It’s absolutely appropriate and necessary to celebrate our front line workers who are managing this crisis. We have to celebrate them. They need and deserve it. But maybe, in our celebration, we can also share some of our empathy and kindness with our neighbors who are just scared. Maybe we can all just be more empathic and loving people. 

So I challenge you all: next time you see your neighbor or peer in fear, rather than judge them or make a joke, have that conversation — at that CDC-approved six-foot distance. Ask them how they are doing. Ask how you can support them right now. And show them empathy. Show them love. Show them security. Show them they are not alone. So that when all this over, and the shelves are restocked, and we can leave our houses, the new normal we will have created is one where we can actually be a world where we support all of its citizens, not just the ones who are easy to love.  

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GettyImages photo via Olga Strelnikova

Originally published: March 23, 2020
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