This is a scene that we’ve traditionally seen occasionally at Christmas, yet it’s becoming a feature of our daily life familiar in the current crisis. It might easily be dismissed as evidence of greed or selfishness. I think of it more as a symptom of fear. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that if you have an empty cupboard and a family to feed, you’re going to do all you can to fulfil your responsibility to keep them safe. I wonder, though, if it goes deeper. Being isolated has given me an opportunity to think about what’s driving our need to panic-buy.
I have found myself trying to understand what many have called ‘selfish’ from a different perspective. Richard Barrett’s 7 levels of human consciousness model helps. He uses it in his book Liberating the Corporate Soul to demonstrate the connection between our consciousness and our values. It works for individuals as well as for organisations.
You might recognise the lower levels if you know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Richard has taken Maslow’s model as a foundation. He categorises needs in this way:
- Basic: something that is important to get, have or have more of, in order to feel safe, happy and comfortable in your existing physical and social environment
- Growth needs: something you would like to have in order to feel a sense of internal alignment—at ease or at peace with yourself—and a sense of meaning, by making a positive contribution in your world.
The basic needs are at levels 1-4; the growth needs, 5-7.
Barrett identifies the different levels as being either part of the survival self (driven by fear: levels 1-3) or part of the soul self (driven by love: levels 5-7). Level 4 is about transformation, when we let go of fears of not having enough or not being enough, and concentrate on what makes us feel whole. When our survival needs (physical, emotional and psychological) are not met, we unconsciously act out of fear.
Acting out of fear almost certainly accounts for some of the panic buying that appears to have become a feature in places recently. We have repeatedly been given the message that there is enough, and yet not everyone hears it. I wonder whether fears surrounding our physical survival needs, such as not having enough food (or toilet rolls – really?) are more easily triggered when we also fear that our emotional needs are not met.
Human babies rely on their parents for their survival. They communicate their survival needs (food, warmth, comfort, shelter) by crying. Who hasn’t sat up at night with a crying baby wondering what s/he needs when we’ve tried all the obvious things? If my needs as a baby were consistently misinterpreted or ignored during such a crucial period in brain development, my brain becomes wired for rejection and worthlessness. In adulthood I am less likely to feel protected and loved; my relationships suffer and I fear I’m not good enough (and who doesn’t, once in a while?); to quote Brené Brown, at these times, we fear we’re not worthy of love and belonging.
Barrett maintains that we need to pay attention to all levels of consciousness; gaps in the lower levels may get in the way of our achieving the higher levels. According to Barrett, if we lose consciousness or ignore of our own needs and focus solely on the higher levels of meeting the common good, when adversity strikes we ‘descend into fear and react with I-based behaviours’ (Barrett, 2010:138). This holds good for both our physical and our emotional/psychological needs. The fear of not having enough is closely aligned with the fear of not being enough and vice versa. When we live with an unconscious fear of not being enough, perhaps our judgement concerning when we have enough (food, material goods etc) becomes clouded.
Levels 5 and 6 are where we are called to operate in the current crisis. We want meaning and purpose (which is why meaningful work is so important to us) and we are driven to make a difference. But this needs not to be at the expense of being conscious of our own survival needs.
In this period of social distancing and self-isolation, maybe we could find a moment to understand ourselves a little better, in order to build firm foundations for connecting with others and building the social capital that will take us beyond the current crisis and into a new way of being.
Barrett, R.(1998) Liberating the Corporate Soul. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann
Brown, B. (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden