Fearful People are Easier to Control

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I’ve been pretty quiet for the last few weeks as I watched the COVID-19 pandemic grow. I didn’t want to jump in with just another pat Christianese answer about having faith and not giving into fear. But as the public hysteria grows, I’m done being quiet because there are some things that need said.

Yesterday I was working at Meijer as a Shipt shopper. Shipting has been my job for the past three years. If you aren’t familiar with Shipt, I’m basically a personal shopper. I use an app to accept orders which I then shop and deliver. Over and over again every hour while my kids are in school. Sorry to disillusion you if you thought I had a glamorous life that included spending my days at chic coffee shops typing out beautiful words. Nope, I’m just a professional grocery shopper.

Because I spent the day at Meijer I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the madness that is the toilet paper apocalypse. Three times over the course of the day, trucks arrived with more toilet paper. Every time before the employees could even get it to the shelf, people descended, grabbed, pushed, and shoved multiple packages into their carts. As customers left with carts full of toilet paper the shelves were once again bare.

The ridiculous thing is that there isn’t really a shortage of toilet paper. We are creating the shortage by overbuying. As the shelves deplete, more people feel panic and begin acting out in fear. Thus the toilet paper apocalypse continues.

Fear makes us do crazy things.

I know this because I spent a decade in a cultic sub-group of Christianity heavily influenced by fear. In fact, if you look into any cult you will find fear based teachings. Why? Because fearful people are easier to control. 

Our state has decided to close schools for the next three weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Trust me, that decision did not help the panicked hysteria. People have swarmed the local grocery stores and stripped the shelves bare. Parking lots are full, every checkout is open, and the lines are long. Why?

It’s not like those stores won’t be open tomorrow and the next day and the next. It’s not like more semi-trucks won’t be showing up to deliver food. But the news of empty shelves causes even more people to panic and try to buy whatever they can. It’s a vicious cycle. Fear makes us act irrationally. 

But I get it. Looking into my fridge this morning, I noticed that I only had half a gallon of milk. I wondered if there was any milk left in the store. Irrational or not, I felt the urge to run out and buy some just in case. I wouldn’t really be out of milk until Sunday at the earliest, but still.

Although I tried to talk myself out of it, eventually I couldn’t help it. Ridiculous or not, I went to a smaller grocery store (that still had food) and got some milk, bread, and a bag of apples. Trust me, I understand the feelings of fear and sense of panic.

But here’s the thing, the lines in the grocery stores, the shortage on toilet paper, and the empty canned good shelves have nothing to do with the actual virus. They are cause by anxiety, fear, and worst case scenarios in peoples’ minds. Personally I’m more concerned about the effects of the public mass hysteria than I am about COVID-19.

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I was picking up my room this morning when I looked out the window and saw a sunbeam glinting on these grassy plumes in my flowerbed. It was a beautiful March morning, especially for Michigan. The sun was still shining, the birds were still singing, and the grass was still waving gently in the breeze. Life was happening around me despite viruses, or hysteria, or a lack of toilet paper. God had not lost control and life was moving on.

We aren’t used to hard things in this culture. But we fear them. And that fear makes us do crazy things.

I want to close with some reminders.

COVID-19 is basically a viral pneumonia. The media likes to call it “the deadly coronavirus” but that just means it’s killed people. So have a lot of other things. Adding the adjective deadly makes it seem scarier. Remember, people who are terrified are easier to control. I find it interesting that in the entire world no child under the age of 10 has died from COVID-19. People who are most at risk are the elderly and those with preexisting health concerns. Most of the population is at a low risk for infection and an even lower risk of serious illness. Most of us do not need to be afraid. 

Should we be educated, aware, and prepared? Yes. Should we follow guidelines from the CDC and our local government agencies? Yes. But should we do irrational things and fall into the public hysteria that is the toilet paper apocalypse? No, please no.

Instead, enjoy some extra time at home. Do your spring cleaning. Make cookies. Read a book. Play a game with your family. Experience the simple things that we don’t usually have time for in our hectic lives. Breathe. Rest. It is going to be okay.

God has not lost control and life will go on.

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