Letter Re: A Recent Gasoline Shortage Underscores the Need to Be Low Profile

I’ve been a reader of your site for only about a year and consider myself a beginner-level survivalist. I’ve got the mindset and start of some basic short-term survival gear and knowledge, but haven’t been able to convince the wife to go all out yet. A few months ago, you had posted an article about keeping your level of preparedness secret from neighbors and I wasn’t sure why until recently. I live in Middle Tennessee, and although we are hundreds of miles away from Hurricane Ike, we experienced a short run on gas and spike in prices. Probably close to a quarter of the gas stations in the city simply ran out. From past experience, I had already purchased a 50-gallon drum with manual pump (which I had filled in July), and I had three 5-gallon jugs that I used to fill up the day before [the hurricane’s] landfall. I could easily make that last for a month even without changing my driving habits as long as there is electricity and I don’t have to generate. Plenty of time for capacity to return to normal.

Not only did I get some evil looks while filling up at the pump [in July], but I was also scrutinized at work by a few people that I had told about my “cache.” Most seemed to think I was the reason for the shortage (or a part of it.) And while I agree that a hype can fuel a shortage, a shortage is still a shortage. My personal preparedness plays such a miniscule role in the big picture. But the comments are enough to have made me learn my lesson. If 65 gallons of gas is enough for people to question my intentions, then what would they say if they discovered a much larger level or preparedness and the problem was much worse? Suddenly I’m not the guy trying to survive — I’m the stingy hoarder who won’t share with people in need and in some way contributed to the shortage. Thanks for all you do. – Wes B.

JWR Replies: In my opinion, the modern American citizenry has been badly misinformed by the mass media about what constitutes “hoarding.” By filling your gas drum and cans several months ago, you did not contribute to a shortage of fuel in the present day. In normal times, chains of supply are continuously replenished. By buying and storing supplies well in advance, you actually helped to alleviate the current short-term supply disruption. By having a pre-existing stockpile, you represent one less motorist queuing up at the gas station. The same logic applies to any other shortage. It is only people that attempt to buy a disproportionately large supply during a crisis that could legitimately be called “hoarders.” But people in your category–that bought far in advance–are not part of the problem. In fact, by having extra on hand, you can dispense charity, which makes you part of the solution.

Maintaining a low profile is just common sense. The “need to know” rule— that was constantly drummed into me when I was in the intelligence community–is time-proven. There are great advantages in being circumspect.

I enjoy giving charitably. But there is no reason why it has to be done with a high profile in the midst of a natural disaster or other crisis. By anonymously leaving parcels on doorsteps or by using an intermediary–such as your local church–you are far less likely to attract unwanted attention from either government officials or members of your community with a twisted sense of ethics.

The other reason for being secretive about charity is Biblical: In Matthew 6:3 (King James Version) we are taught: “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” Essentially, this means that when giving charitably, we should do it without any fanfare, lest it be a source of pride. Give generously, but do so very quietly.