Of Greatest Demand & Shortest Reserve
If anyone found the rush on toilet paper, et al. absurd, they’ve either never lived through a major storm or failed to view It’s A Wonderful Life. The 49er-like stampede continued from Brisbane to Boston for days on end. Even with strict, retailer-imposed rations in place, aisles of dry goods, dairy, and meat remain lean. The rationale ranges from panic buying to long-term preparedness. Unless one plans on selling ultra soft rolls at twice the price of crude on the net, logic supports both.
From groceries, the world pivoted rapidly to masks and gloves. The need — much less the want — far outstripes the supply. In mid-March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated cloth masks be used “as a last resort” by medical professionals. No healthy person should wear masks at all. While the guidance for medical professionals remains the same, many hospitals are accepting donations of homemade and/or “non-certified” masks just to keep frontline medical aid functional. Further, the CDC now offers a tutorial page for making cloth face masks and recommends their use for anyone venturing outside the home.
While frenetic goodwill pours into mask-making like a continual, Lenten metánoia, the U.S. faces news of possible disruptions in the food chain. Thus, a sudden repeat performance of the toilet paper debacle but with pork.
Yet for all the demands, shortages, and resulting upheavals, two items — for which no pattern or program exist — remain at critically low levels. Their absence made this crisis as bad as it is. Their abatement will make it worse.
Foremost, one must understand that personal choice and freedom find severe limitations during this time. Not everyone may choose to work or not. Choose to be in harm’s way or not. Neither make the right choice nor the best choice. Wherever those souls may be, we must acknowledge the limitations placed on them by happenstance. (Thus, the following may not apply in whole.)
People caused the depth of this crisis — ignorantly or not — through multiple levels and stages of action, reaction, or inaction, despite the alarms sounded by certain persons. Perhaps fiction captures this idea best:
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. -Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K, Men in Black (1997)
One is hard pressed to find an inverse function for this. The algorithm doesn’t flip due to gaslighting or dictatorial leadership.
What do people require to prevent devolving so?
Burning an economy to ash and deadbolting borders would never have kept COVID-19 from anyone’s door. The threadbare adage regarding hindsight wears no clothes either. A basic tenet of public administration, communications, public affairs is emergency preparedness. Basically, examine all scenarios; develop contingencies equal to the emergency; and when a problem emerges, begin expedient implementation to stave off or lessen a crisis. I’ll leave the horse-whipping to others. Suffice to say: a person didn’t lack foresight; people did.
How many of us metaphorically slapped ourselves during the past six weeks for making fun of preppers?
Regardless of where we’ve been, foresight matters equally as we move forward. Not just for elected leaders; this practice can mean the difference in “bending the curve” for our local communities, bringing COVID-19 into our thus far virus-free homes, establishing a sense of routine amidst the chaos. Foresight allows us to weigh cause-and-effect, probability against possibility. Still, having only foresight gives way to a sort of arms race mentality. (See panic buying eggs.)
The rarest, most precious commodity of 2020 has been true of patience for all time. We don’t “do” patience well in the 21st century. Not a single generation, but all of us. Yet, from secular humanism to evangelical Christianity to ancient and modern philosophies, patience is a shared, practically identical virtue. Jesus fasted 40 days and nights in the Judean Desert based on St. Matthew’s account. Buddha sat underneath the Bodhi tree for 49 days without moving. On the stories go. All impart valuable lessons on the practice of patience, including its rewards.
Accustom yourself to that which you bear ill, and you will bear it well. -Seneca
Patience sharpens forethought. Forethought yields greater patience. Together, they increase the favorable odds of any situation. Granted, the end result might be a lesser choice but not the least choice.
Like foresight, patience alone cannot sustain itself. It tips imperceptibly into complacency, pride, and ignorance. The one balances and checks the other. Much as we must do for our families, friends, and neighbors.
Foresight and patience insist upon an individual series of choices — proactive and experiential in nature — which cannot be bought, sold, or bartered. Like the vagaries of a grandmother’s oral recipe, only dedicated repetition yields the desired result. Once learned, their essence may pass from sister to brother to grandmother to son to wife to co-worker to student to teacher… until a person becomes people, and Agent K’s maxim is not so much proven false as obsolete.