Choosing Empathy over Judgement

Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash

A scrap broke out at a Woolworths in Sydney earlier this week, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In response to the Coronavirus, many Australians have begun panic buying toilet paper.

Panic buying reflects a breakdown of trust. People are hoarding toilet paper because they believe a time may come soon when it’s everyone for themselves: A kind of Mad Max style dystopia, except with diarrhoea.

We know this is ridiculous, especially given most toilet paper is produced domestically.

That in mind, we should choose to have empathy for these confused panic buyers. Instead, a media circus has emerged around harsh judgement and mockery. The NT News published a satirical toilet paper liftout and The Daily Mail reported that the hoarders had “The Runs.”

This also appeared in my LinkedIn feed this morning:

The irony is that those casting judgement share the same core beliefs about human nature as hoarders. They each believe that humans are stupid and cannot be trusted, and if order breaks down then all will quickly descend in to chaos.

The judgers and the judged have the same view of human nature, they just share a slightly different belief about supply chain logistics. Judgement feeds hoarders’ beliefs by making them feel unsafe in their communities and justified in engaging in behaviours which they believe will protect themselves and those they love. If my neighbour won’t empathise with me, they surely won’t be willing to loan me any essentials if worse comes to worst.

When trust breaks down, the solution isn’t judgement but empathy.

These are volatile and unusual times in which we need to foster empathy, trust and collaboration. The first step is to not panic buy toilet paper (you’ll be fine), but the second step is to find ways to empathise with those who do.

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