Why Toilet Paper? There's Something More Important

We are in the midst of a pandemic and I’m waiting in my Dentist’s office after having my temperature checked. The patient before me, a young man, comes out from the treatment room, wipes his nose with a tissue and throws it in the bin next to me.


A behavior that would have barely registered a couple of months ago now triggered my feelings of disgust.

Disgust is an emotional response of rejection or revulsion to something potentially contagious. Unlike our animalistic fight or flight response, disgust is a more evolved response that we developed to protects us from harmful foods. Disgust is primarily triggered by taste, but smell, sight and touch also come into play.

My initial response to the young man in the Dentist’s office was not so much logical as ‘psycho-logical’. My consciousness, and yours, has been primed by news of the dangers of contracting Covid-19 from other human beings. We are primed to see danger and be disgusted more readily. Whereas poor personal hygiene, in the past, was unpleasant, it is now life-threatening.

So, what’s the connection to toilet paper?

I think it’s two things:

Firstly, in relation to disgust, Westerners associate toilet paper with being clean and the world suddenly feels very dirty.

Secondly, mass panic. Panic is more contagious than the virus and once news gets out that people are stockpiling, everybody does.

Something more Important

Self-leadership is especially important in times of crisis. We need medical and emergency staff to stay calm. We need our leaders to think and act rationally and not to fuel the panic.

With Self-leadership we can become aware of what is triggering us and choose to ‘self-regulate’ and respond more effectively and appropriately. For example:

  • Practicing Social Distancing is important – Paranoia isn’t useful
  • Ensuring you have a supply of vital supply of key essential is smart – stockpiling and preventing others from having the necessities is selfish and stupid
  • Staying informed of latest developments is essential – spreading rumors is criminal

What’s important is to remain rational. Notice what narrative you are telling yourself, and check if this is a true story. During these times of crisis, you will need to regulate your emotional responses, not just for yourself but for your community at large.

This is a time to show leadership based on competence rather than ideology. If you are in a position of influence, how you act now has huge consequences on those that follow you and will be remembered long after this crisis ends.

As an Executive and Leadership Coach for over 20-years, I have supported leaders through challenging times before and I am currently putting together a ‘Self-leadership Survival Kit’ – please let me know in the comments which issues you would like me to address and I will send you a link.

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