Even before the Corona virus dominated the world’s attention, it could be said that we live in extraordinary times. This appears even more true as each day becomes more like science fiction movies that once had been a thing only of imagination.
While we have no way to predict how long the nation & world will remain in a surreal lock-down mode, and while there is no way to know how this time in history will resolve itself, there is one thing we know is true:
Compared to the Corona virus, group-panic is the far more dangerous virus we should actively avoid– because irrational group-panic is what triggers an endless wave of destruction that is often far worse than than the actual thing we fear.
This is not to say we should be unconcerned with Corona Virus– this situation is deeply concerning, and we all must take every precaution possible to curb the spread of this fast-moving virus– including following all the guidance issued to us from the CDC.
However, while Corona is a fast-moving virus that is dangerous for a certain segment of our population, group-based fear is the faster moving virus that is dangerous for all of us, regardless of age or preexisting medical conditions.
While as a Christian I believe humanity is unique from the animal kingdom in that we bear the image of God, it is times of crisis like this that demonstrate we still very much share some basic animal instincts– specifically that of herd animals.
Growing up on a farm I witness many a time when just one or two animals would get spooked and do something out of sheer fear, only to trigger the rest of the herd to do the exact same thing. While the initial threat that spooks the first few animals is usually a legitimate fear, the tragic irony is that when the entire herd begins joining in with those panic behaviors, the group often creates a set of circumstances far worse than the original threat.
And as we have seen, the same holds true for us.
A small portion of the population rushes out and panic-buys far more toilet paper than they need, and immediately the rest of the herd panics with them– leading them to do the exact same thing. Then, of course, some take it to the next level and begin hoarding other items that leave a shelf bare, only to trigger the same group-panic again– creating a problem that only exists because of fear-based decisions.
The Corona virus hasn’t caused the nation to eat more food or need more toilet paper– it has been our fear-based choices that created a set of circumstances more dangerous than the initial threat that started it all.
This is how group panic works– and it’s the same in humans as it is in animals. In fact, studies have shown that in scenarios where a group of individuals are unsure what they should do, 95% of people will mimic decisions if they see just 5% of the group doing it— even if they know there’s no rational reason for them to do it.
Like with animals, the end result is that our fear-based group-panic places us in far greater danger than the original threat we are facing– and the key is that it is unnecessary danger we place ourselves in. Danger that doesn’t happen if we don’t panic.
While a lack of toilet paper is extremely inconvenient, it’s not all that dangerous– but it proves the point: there is no rational reason for a shortage of toilet paper. There was plenty for everyone just three weeks ago, and there would be enough for everyone now– were it not for the factor of group-panic where 95% of the herd joins the 5% who did something unnecessary.
We are living in an extraordinary time… and it’s a time when we need to be making thoughtful and rational choices– choices that balance what is good for ourselves along with what is good for the group, so that we don’t unintentionally create circumstances far more dire than what would be created if we resisted fear.
In the days, weeks, and potentially months ahead, we are all going to need each other– and we have both moral and ethical responsibilities toward one another. But the number one thing we can each do in order to help ourselves, our neighbors, and the country through this, is to not panic— because our fears create a group-based panic reaction that is a faster moving and a far more dangerous virus than Corona.