Mentality of Scarcity

For many, living through this pandemic has created a mentality of scarcity. It began in early March when toilet paper flew off the shelves as did bleach and disinfectant wipes. Next came a rush on flour and yeast as everyone began to bake bread, and/or cinnamon buns while isolated at home.  Recently, fear that meat will be scarce with many meat processing plants suffering from outbreaks among workers is causing shortages again.

We try to control fear by stocking our pantries.  It seems to provide a modicum of control when everything seems beyond our control.

The news media skillfully uses this natural fear to their advantage with reports that promote greater anxiety. But will the natural reaction to fears of becoming very sick and, possibly dying, be alleviated by stocking up on toilet paper or flour or meat? Fear of running out of food and household supplies is painted as something that might happen quickly just as the COVID virus seemed to come quickly to North America. It creates a breeding ground for a mentality of scarcity.

What’s Behind the Scarcity Mentality?

Aside from empty shelves at grocery stores, what’s behind the scarcity mentality?

The scarcity mentality is rooted in negative emotions.  It may begin with a fear of not having enough to meet basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs posits that physiological and safety needs must be met before we aspire to achieve higher-level needs such as self-actualization. We stock up on food and supplies to stay safe.

It grows with fears of the unknown. What might happen if we don’t have bread, meat or toilet paper?  What may happen if the Coruna virus lasts longer than we expect? When nobody can predict how long we may need to stay isolated we begin to hoard.

Uncertainty is also a component of the scarcity mentality.  Although uncertainty is always a component of life, most of us never considered a big change such as we have experienced with this unpredictable virus.  The ‘normal’ schedule of events in a week previously offered a level of predictability. Suddenly there is no ‘normal’ schedule.

Scarcity mentality also relates to loss.  We fear the loss of control and the loss of agency.  The rapid changes happening around us mean there will be big changes everywhere. It’s natural that we worry about losing the lifestyle to which we have been accustomed.

Knowledge is an Antidote

Knowledge helps with managing a mentality of scarcity.  In the early days of this pandemic, most of us were glued to news sites on television sets seeking information. When we don’t know what to expect, we look for answers.  Knowing brings a sense of competence.

We’ve learned about social distancing, surfaces that harbour germs, and the importance of frequent hand-washing including proper hand-washing techniques. We know that wearing a mask protects others from disease spread although it won’t protect the person wearing the mask.

There are many unknowns about COVID-19. Knowledge won’t banish legitimate fears related to COVID-19,  However, it can help us assess the implications of actions we take. We’ve learned to make adjustments in how we live to stay safe.

Planning and Scarcity Mentality

Most of us have learned that planning is a key strategy to manage the future. In most circumstances, we can imagine the future and our role in it.

In a previous life as a manager, planning and goal setting were important aspects of organizational life.  At the personal level, I’ve always had a life plan that changed with parenting, career moves, and now, with retirement.

Because it’s difficult to plan for the unknown we resort to basics — staying safe in our homes, staying safe if we need groceries, staying a safe distance from others. It’s reassuring to try to control what we can control.

Maybe that’s why we react to the COVID pandemic with a scarcity mentality. When you can’t change the situation, perhaps the only control is to buy enough of what you fear will be less available.

Finally, a story of scarcity mentality. Last week, my daughter-in-law shopped for her family and also for the two of us.  As she pushed the heaped shopping cart around the grocery store, someone noticed and confronted her with a comment about unnecessarily stocking up.  She was shocked — and explained to the other shopper that she was shopping for her elderly in-laws as well as her family of four.

When she told me what happened, I was surprised.  I realized how easy it is to judge one another especially when everyone is under stress during the pandemic.

This is a time when it’s important to make rational decisions.  It’s respectful to buy what you need and leave supplies for others.  It’s also important not to jump to conclusions or make judgements about the behaviour of others.

Thanks for reading this post.  I’m interested in your comments and thoughts about the scarcity mentality.  How has it affected you and your family?

I welcome feedback and will reply to your comments!

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