Forum: Build social resilience to counter harmful collective behaviour

Shoppers at the Meidi-Ya Supermarket in Liang Court on Feb 8, 2020.
Shoppers at the Meidi-Ya Supermarket in Liang Court on Feb 8, 2020.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

I would like to share a meaningful commentary regarding the psychology behind panic buying. During the panic buying of fuel in the UK in 2012, Dr Clifford Stott, a collective psychology expert, gave his opinion to the BBC, which I find insightful.

Dr Stott pointed to the need to build social resilience, strengthening our capacity as a society to be resilient.

Social resilience involves building a collective identity that would reinforce trust and confidence. Panic buying is not a loss of rationality but a loss of ourselves as a community.

The recent unfortunate case of panic buying here served as a wake-up call to be proactive to prevent future episodes (Leaders call for calm and urge against panic buying at stores here, Feb 9).

Many people, including me, had acted prejudicially. Shortage of face masks triggered collective anxiety of impending shortage due to the massive rush for essentials.

Although the mad shopping spree subsided, it could be a harbinger of other forms of harmful collective behaviour, should conditions deteriorate. More robust precautions have to be put in place.

Residents in Hong Kong exhibited similar collective behaviour. Generally, their trust in their government is low. The majority of Singaporeans trust the Government.

However, we should not be complacent. Trust is a choice. In times of distress, fear can impede our courage to trust. The recent incident is a case in point.

In view of the evolving coronavirus situation, our society must find ways to reinforce trust and confidence in the community.

Identify and bridge the gap in trust deficiency. Strengthen our capacity as a society to be resilient to overcome the fear over our safety and livelihood.

Chow Kok Fai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2020, with the headline 'Build social resilience to counter harmful collective behaviour'. Print Edition | Subscribe