Posted on March 17, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Paul with 54 Comments

This editorial originally appeared in Monday’s Premium newsletter, but I hope and expect that most Premium members won’t mind me sharing it with everyone. The entire planet is literally going through some tough times with no end in sight. And I just wanted to express how important it is to focus on what’s important in times of crisis: Taking care of each other.

I also wanted to add something that should have been in the original editorial: Over the weekend, one of our neighbors texted us all and offered everyone on our street access to her incredible stockpile of food, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and more. It was perhaps the most neighborly message I’d ever received, and yet another wonderful example of how good people can be.


Late last week, I started writing an editorial about working from home, a subject I’m uniquely qualified for since I’ve been doing so since about 1994. I may still finish that, but it occurred to me over the weekend that we perhaps need to have a different discussion. About crisis.

My kids were in Jamaica last week to help with a poor school for the deaf, part of a group from a church that a family member is active in. We’re not religious, but I’d like to think that we’ve given our kids the experiences they need to be good people, and my wife and I knew that this trip would be transformative for them. It was: My daughter, normally quiet and insular, was joyfully sending us photos of her and her brother with the kids whose lives they intersected with all week. They’ll never forget it. And I hope they go next year too. They want to.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Coronavirus situation escalated dramatically in the week they were gone. The kids wondered whether they’d have trouble flying home–they didn’t, thankfully–and reacted differently–my son troubled, my daughter elated–as they discovered that their respective schools had been shut down, at least temporarily. They had a lot of questions about the crisis. And on their final day in Jamaica, my son texted us and asked if people were really hoarding toilet paper.

“Here’s all you need to know,” I wrote. “People are idiots and you see their true selves in times of crisis.”

Driving around later–probably heading to the gym, something I keep expecting to be closed any day now-–I found myself thinking about what I had communicated to the kids. I regretted the first half of that: Not all people are idiots, of course. But I was also struck by the raw truth of the second half of my message. You really do see people’s true selves in times of crisis. And oftentimes–more often than not, I bet–those true selves really shine.

My best personal example of this happened 21 years ago when my then one-year-old son almost died in Phoenix from bacterial meningitis. His life was saved by a doctor who had the smarts and insight to believe that a type of infection that was, at that time, not at all common could be the cause. I was also impressed by how my wife reacted to this tragedy, taking charge and making sure that our son got the care he needed. I later told her parents that their daughter was a superhero. Meanwhile, here I was in the hospital with a dying child, looking up at news of what turned out to the be the Columbine school shooting–in my haze, I thought it was happening locally–and worried that this already over-burdened care center was just about to get a lot crazier.

Our son did recover, but he completely lost his hearing and he later received cochlear implants. A few years after this, we visited Phoenix again for the first time–we had moved back to Boston in part because it’s a center for the type of care he needed–and we took him to visit the doctor to thank him for saving his life. It just seemed like the right thing to do, and I think it was as important for us as it was to the doctor.

This makes me think about how people react in times of crisis. That doctor, with great speed and correctness. And my wife, who revealed herself to be a person of great resolve and decision, someone who always fought to make sure our baby got exactly the care he needed.

That was a personal crisis. But in times of greater crisis like this Coronavirus pandemic, it’s helpful to remember how people can–and often do–rally to help each other. There is nothing more amazing to me than the footage of the Boston Marathon bombing in which everyone ducks and stumbles at the first blast, and then the Boston Police instantly turn and head towards the explosion. Are you kidding me?

A few weeks later, we brought the kids into Boston to visit the various memorials and to confront this terribleness together, and we witnessed something wonderful. Waiting to cross the street on the corner of Copley and Dartmouth in front of the Boston Public Library and just a short distance from where the Boston Marathon usually ends, we saw a bus full of school children pull up to the corner, right to the side of several Boston policemen who were sitting on motorcycles. The kids pulled down the windows and applauded the cops with joyous cheers. The police, in turn, stood up and saluted the bus. My God.

This is who we want to be in times of crisis. And for all the negativity we see out there, all the terribleness, I feel that this is who we can be.

Be safe.

– Paul


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Comments (54)

54 responses to “Crisis”

  1. epsjrno

    Don't mind at all. Good one to share with everyone.

  2. dxtremebob

    May you and your family stay safe, Paul.

  3. ronh

    Awesome post

  4. diamond575

    Hmm, there is no "like" button for Paul's commentaries.


  5. red77star

    God bless anyone. Stay safe, help your neighbor, help your family member and we will all be good.

  6. Sbeisner1

    Very. Well. Said.

  7. ianceicys

    Not gonna lie. This post made me tear up. Thanks Paul.

  8. Winner

    Such a great post Paul. This is what our country should be and what our leaders should be conveying.

  9. derylmccarty

    I am retired military...way retired. So at some risk (75). Went to the commissary yesterday for the weekly shopping. The shelves were okay except TP and Purell type hand sanitizers and 70% isopropyl alcohol. The important part was the mood and moral of the shoppers. Helpful, friendly, courteous, together - as I have noticed and encouraged in every threat scenario I have seen over the years. Yes, there were even MPs at the front door of the large facility suggesting with a smile, as only MPs can do, that you take this chem wipe I am handing you and before you go into the building wipe hands and shopping carts. Or else. (That may seem a little strange, but providing less expensive food and taxed at a less rate, is not the primary business of the commissary system. It is feeding the troops including food and meat edibility certification. The MPs are there to insure that we do not spoil the food supply for our sons and daughters who already face incoming fire.)

    At any rate here I was around folks whose experiences in life are holding the devil at bay in places you didn't even know were places and they were kind, caring, courteous in the extreme, and really nice to be around. Their only complaint? The print and broadcast media are catering to the salacious not the sagacious. They should be following around the folks in your neighborhood, Paul, who are helping each other. That is the real story, not the "sky is falling". In fact, you could use your not inconsequential photographic skills and post a few local neighborhood vids on FB or even this site.

    And there would likely be a heavenly reward for such. When you help the little old lady (80+) down the street she will say thank you. But deep in the night you may hear a knock on your door. You answer. No one. But there is a covered plate on the porch with hot-from-the-oven (a fatal environment for corona viri) Toll House cookies. And sir, those fresh baked chocolate chip cookies are America's single best description of manna from heaven.

  10. yb

    I do some voluntary work in the community here in Central London W1. We are trying to organise some system that would ensure that volunteers would keep a close eye on the 70+ age group living on their own. They are meant to self insulate themselves. Only a minority uses the internet at all.

    We'll have it by the weekend; mainly to make sure that they are able to speak to somebody on a regular basis, and that if they need something [food usually], we may be able to offer assistance. this is the least we can do. In my building there a neighbour age 75. not in the best of health. high risk individual. can't leave him to go through it his own.

    great article Paul. for all the idiots as you call them, the selfish and the hoarders there are other people out there.

    regards and keep healthy

  11. olditpro2000

    Great words, Paul. Thanks for sharing it with everyone. Let's all try to stay as safe as we can and support each other!

  12. kevin_costello

    This was a fantastic read -- thanks, Paul.

  13. dargus

    Thanks for sharing this, Paul!

  14. sevenacids

    Hoarding without thought and reason is the most antisocial thing you can do and we're not facing the apocalypse right now (honestly, if people freak out like this because of a relatively harmless virus, what are they gonna do when something really serious comes around? I'm not sure I wanna imagine). Even curfews in Italy and Spain allow people to go to get groceries, and the supply chains won't break down so easy. I mean, it's not like we're observing a case fatality rate of 20% or something. This is not Ebola. Mostly older and weak people are in danger, so we should do the best we can to keep them safe. And supplied. Think about it before you go and get half a dozen of packages of toilet paper. I'm really upset about this right now because I'm running out of it - because of the mentioned "idiots".

  15. labeler1950

    Inspirational story Paul!!

  16. jaboonday

    It's nice to see the Real Paul shine in this article :)

    Thanks for an inspirational message in these dark times. We see the images of people fighting for toilet paper in grocery store aisles, but my experience in those very same aisles has been one of "we're all in this together, so let's help each other!"

  17. IanYates82

    I was hoping you might publish the editorial email on the website and had been meaning to write back to suggest it. Thanks for making it more broadly available and giving us a good story in these times.

  18. wwjd.dreamz

    Thanks for sharing this. We need such reminders to realise that not all is bad -- there are still glimpses of hope amongst us. Things are definitely challenging, speaking from Singapore (one of the first few hit with this virus); but it's at such moments where we can rise up above the crisis together and to love one another.

    (And yes, the toilet paper.. for some reason, is a global craze).

  19. hrlngrv

    The other part to People are idiots is whether any of us is one of them.

  20. crfonseca

    “People are idiots and you see their true selves in times of crisis.”

    Truer words have never been said.

  21. obarthelemy

    I'd amend that to crowds, not people. People are reasonably smart and empathetic, crowds are indistinct blobs of stupidity and meanness. It's similar to what happens to some people when they drive vs walk.

    As for toilet paper as a crowd focus, it's partially understandable:

    1- I've read psychologically there's something specific about poo. It's the one thing we make, with boogers. Toddlers and kids are very aware of that ;-p And TP is level zero of being clean.

    2- Eat-drink-clean is really the basic stuff that's threatened here. Warm and safe isn't as opposed to for tornadoes and terrorism. Getting TP is semi-logical, most people have 1 week of it, but 2 weeks of food. What else is more important and less "hoarded" in peaceful times ?

    3- Even if you're not senselessly hoarding stuff, because others are, you must too. I'm OK on TP because I just had my large bimestrial order of basic groceries stuff delivered, but I forgot pasta. I know have 4 weeks (@2 meals/week) of pasta, not because I want to, but because my grocer told me those were her last ones, and their wholesaler is out, and the producer is out. If I don't overstock, there's no knowing when I'll find more. I'm having the same issue with eggs, chick peas, and tins of sardines in tomatoe sauce, all stuff I eat 1x or 2x/week. I'll hoard if I come across any, get 2-3 weeks instead of <1. Especially since in France I must now register on the Web when I go out of my home, so I try and make trips count.

    So yep, people are idiots. Buuuut, I'm doing the same, and for valid reasons ?

    L'enfer, c'est les autres.

    • mestiphal

      In reply to obarthelemy:

      I don't consider myself a hoarder, as I don't hoard, don't go crazy to buy all the water, batteries, and toilet paper I can find. Though I have a good pantry, so I don't have to worry about running out of something right away.

      I can, however, understand the toiler paper craze, but doesn't apply just to toiler paper, it's basically everything. As people get sick, they stop going to work, as this becomes a pandemic, more and more people will stay home, and warehouses will get shut down. I just read that Amazon temporarily closed down in NY because someone was infected.

      Similar to how many factories close down in China, the same can happen to the food industry, and, yes, the toilet paper factories... in which at some point, won't be able to make enough to satisfy the demand. Hence, the toilet paper could run out, not because some dude has 1500 rolls in his bathroom, but because they aren't making any.

  22. roho

    What Premium newsletter? How does one get it?

  23. dougkinzinger

    I'm very frustrated that you shared this once-premium post with everyone. :D Nah, just kidding. The kindness of strangers, neighbors, and friends is a welcome relief in these trying times. Stay safe everyone!

  24. mattbg

    Great post!

  25. npatel2260

    I am glad you shared this with everyone. With all the negative in the headlines this whole week/ month future days it helps to have some positivity. The world does have good people not all are bad. I just wish the news / media would also show positive stories ... What comes around goes around. Positivity will follow positivity.. negativity will follow negativity..

  26. rm

    Thank you for sharing Paul!

  27. avidfan451

    Beautifully written, Paul. Couldn’t agree more. In times like these, we can all rise to meet the adversity, and be better together (even if we have to stay apart). My best to you and yours. Stay safe out there.

  28. troughley

    Wise words, and we all need to pull through this together!

  29. dsharp75

    Well said. One of the reasons that years later, Paul is still the go to man.

  30. beatnixxx

    Stay home, don't drive to the gym.

  31. cwfinn

    Well said Paul. Neighbors helping neighbors is the way to go. This too shall pass.

  32. wixtech

    Thank you for sharing this story Paul. Much needed today.

  33. terry jones

    Great article.

    A lot of this hoarding crap could be solved if they outlawed "Retail Armitage", which is one of the big reasons for the shortages.

    Give Amazon credit, they put the brakes on these profiteering pirates early, so a lot of these guys are stuck with a garage filled with sanitizer & toilet paper.

    I hope those jerks choke on it.

  34. wright_is

    And in the UK, panic buyers were raiding the charity trolley at one supermarket in Hove, where people put their donations for the less fortunate, trying to get at the stuff the shop had sold out of! The supermarket had to remove the trolley. :-(

    It is great to see all the good things people are doing, but the general population can quickly bring us back down to Earth.

    Superheroes are in the minority... So, just keep being a superhero, even when those around you prove to be the worst scum, don't drop to their level!

  35. chuck willemsen

    Absolutely! This should be shared widely.

  36. mikes_infl

    Thanks for sharing Paul. That's a very heartwarming story. choked me up a bit. ( OMG another virus! ) ;-)

  37. JH_Radio

    Sure. This was too important to not share with the world, premium or not.

  38. wolters

    People are idiots and you see their true selves in times of crisis

    When you said that, it reminded me of this poignant scene from Star Trek Deep Space Nine:

    I myself am a person of Faith and our church immediately took action during this time to make sure that the needs are met. We meet once a month at one of the most impoverished parts of our local town to pass out food and pour into people and we've doubled our efforts daily now to reach people and shut-ins during this time. It has been a refreshing and an encouraging task to be a part of especially spreading hope during a time of fear and worry.

  39. skolvikings

    Wait, there's a premium newsletter? What am I missing?

  40. jbwild

    Awesome article Paul! Thanks for that one.

  41. amac

    [Long time follower, first time poster, fellow Amiga enthusiast.]

    Thank you for this, Paul. With friends in Italy, Africa, and China, I'm comfortable deciding to isolate (without panic), but we should all attempt to rise above crisis, and lead the crowd in the right choices. My friends in other countries thank God for medical mission trips like your kids did. Please, thank them for me.

  42. JerryH

    Actually Paul, people are idiots when taken as a group. You were right about that. Go back to that wonderful quote from Men In Black: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it." That really sums it up. Groups have problems acting smart. You see it all the time when people run over each other and trample each other to death when some emergency crops up.

  43. ken_loewen

    Thank you, Paul. Just... Thank you.