By last Wednesday afternoon, the shelves at grocery stores across Prince George were starting to look bare and the lineups at the till were long with customers waiting to pay for their loaded shopping carts.
Fuelled by the southern highway closures and social media posts, many residents grabbed as much meat, produce, toilet paper and other goods as they could, just in case the highways would stay closed indefinitely and stores would not be able to restock.
That didn’t happen, of course.
Trucks took alternate routes or came from Alberta, loaded with groceries to stock up stores shelves by the weekend.
Naturally, people took to social media to criticize their local friends and neighbours for filling up their pantries.
Panic buying is another form of mob mentality, a well-known and studied social phenomenon seen not just in humans but in other mammals as well.
Basically, when people and other critters see everyone else urgently doing something, they start doing it too, without knowing why, rather than take the risk of being left behind.
“If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?” our mothers used to scold us.
Well, mom, I probably would and so would you.
Even for those who stop to think about it for a moment, panic buying is easily justified. Emergency officials encourage everyone to stock up, just in case, so I should as well, right? That’s another proven human trait, where our conscious mind provides the rationale for what our subconscious has already decided we should do.
Once panic buying takes hold, it’s nearly impossible to stop, even when community leaders, supply chain experts, grocery store presidents and the person working the till say everything will be fine and deliveries will just be late a day or two. The herd is on the move and it won’t stop until enough people question their actions.
That doesn’t excuse the greed or the mindless panic buying we saw last week. It’s also human nature to follow the golden rule and consider the safety and welfare of others. In moments of crisis, real or imagined, we should all first ask ourselves what kind of human we want to be.
Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout