Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” But even during the most desperate times, Winnie’s wit carried the day. So perhaps today, while a virus wends its way across the world, we can take a deep breath (while practicing social distancing) and smile.
To be sure, the coronavirus presents a rather serious crisis. It’s so bad that people have convinced themselves that there are shortages that don’t really exist. The opening sentence from Michael Corkery and Sapna Maheshwari’s New York Times March 13, 2020 article titled, “Is There Really a Toilet Paper Shortage?” captured the madness: “If there’s one image that captures the panic sweeping through the United States this week, it might be the empty store shelves where toilet paper usually sits.”
I went to my local Costco to see if this madness could possibly be true. Were otherwise intelligent people actually hoarding rolls of soft, perforated white paper whose only function was arse-cleaning? Were they willing to wait over an hour in line just to enter the warehouse store to buy massive amounts of this Western brainchild of the inventor who named it after himself: Gayetty’s Medicated Paper? Would panicky people contribute to supply chain sabotage and throw demand-planning forecasts out of kilter by emptying store shelves of this quotidian product?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
So what to do about all these affirmatives that presage a rather unsavory negative? Just imagine a world where people don’t have enough toilet paper to do their business! In my line of work, I help organizations make transitions through times of change. I use a rather simple formula to overcome resistance to transformation: D x V x F > R.
- Dissatisfaction: Internalize dissatisfaction with the current change
- Vision: Envision a desired future state
- First Steps: Take the necessary first steps
- Resistance: Recognize that there is resistance to change
If it is true that there is always some level of resistance to change, then R is always greater than zero; and in the simple math formula, R will always win out if D or V or F is zero.
Back to the toilet paper crisis, which is actually a metaphor for the paradox of abundance.
It is clearly unacceptable that people should fight over toilet paper. Similarly, price gouging must be unacceptable, and yet capitalist individuals corral the supply of hand sanitizers and sell their goods on Amazon at obscene markups. And as we climb the ladder of abstraction, we can all agree that authoritarian systems must not exploit the free market by accepting the largesse of other countries in their own time of need but limit the flow of medical products when their time of distress has passed (yes, this is about China limiting the flow of face masks). With each of us surely only six degrees of separation removed from someone inflicted with COVID-19, Dissatisfaction is greater than zero.
Look around and imagine that we have plenty of resources; we just have to be empathetically resourceful in how we make these resources available to those who need them most. Let’s not become like Joseph Gayetty who watermarked his name on each sheet with which people cleaned what they had shat; let’s be a bit less egocentric and self-centered. The following quote often attributed to M. K. Gandhi, but actually first said by Frank Buchman of Initiatives for Change, can help us all envision a more generous world, thus making our collective Vision greater than zero: “There’s enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
Here’s a more famous Gandhian quote that the so-called Mahatma might or might not have said: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” That’s a great philosophical first step. Now on to the practical matter of what we do to hygienically clean up after we defecate in the loo. I suggest this call to action as part of your morning ablutions, thus making your personal First Step greater than zero: minimize your dependence on toilet paper by cleaning your backside with water. For those whose toilets are so-quipped, loo like the French do and use a bidet. For those without fancy ceramic fixtures, loo like billions of villagers do and pour the water from a lota.
When I first returned to India in the mid-1970s, I saw all of the Rajasthanis in my native village carrying lotas with them to the “jungle” at sunrise. At first, I resisted this communal cleansing but eventually, I joined the morning march. Perhaps you, too, will resist the idea of using a lota in the loo. But try a little behavior change on just one morning this week. By giving up the urge to wipe your rump with a lifetime of bright white reams of paper, you might see that we’re all in this crisis together. Regardless of where you land on the economics of globalization, the coronavirus has proven that Marshall McLuhan was right: we all live in a global village.
Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, is a Change Management Consultant working with clients across the world; he also facilitates the development of MBA students’ interpersonal dynamics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.