What You Can See in the Dark

By Jason Menard

It is at times such as Thursday night’s blackout that the best and worst of human nature is revealed. And it’s doubly important that once life gets back to normal, that same human nature is rewarded appropriately.

I was one of the lucky ones who lived through the Quebec Ice Storm with minimal interruption to my life. Living in Montreal at the time, our house was in one of the few sectors that did not lose power. As my downtown office was without any power for the better part of the week, I was able to stay at home and watch the situation unfold.

Like most of you would do, we opened our homes to friends who were less fortunate, eventually fitting five adults, one child, a handful of irritating birds, fish, a chinchilla, and a massive dog into a modest two-bedroom apartment.

We watched the surreal images of the city around us unfold on the television, so far removed from our own reality. We kept in contact with family members – some of whom did not regain power for a month. And we watched with disgust the actions of a select few.

At a time when people are supposed to come together and lend a hand to those in need, we saw stores raising the price of everyday products. Batteries were sold at $5 each, prices for staples like milk and toilet paper went through the roof, and bottled water was sold at a premium. At a time when countless thousands of people from across Canada were feverishly working to send generators and other supplies to Quebec, the people of our own province were gouging those in the most need.

So we turn to London and its surrounding area. From the darkness that enveloped our region emerged the true nature of many of its inhabitants. While the majority of people did go out of their way to lend a hand, there were a select few who chose to take this opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of others.

Watching the local news we were treated to a regional gas station owner – who shall remain nameless at this time, but really shouldn’t be offered that courtesy — who gleefully explained that he was able to raise his prices up to almost 86 cents a litre, due to the need of running a generator, employing extra staff, and making a little extra profit.

Now, I appreciate the supply and demand nature of our capitalist society, and I don’t begrudge people making money where circumstances warrant. But one of the few things that separates us from machines is compassion – the ability to put aside our natural instinct to do more, make more, earn more in the hopes of helping our fellow citizens during extreme situations.

Reports from across the affected area came in with similar stories of price gouging. It is at this point where it becomes our responsibility to ensure that the economic karma is returned in full force.

One of the interesting things that came out of the Ice Storm was the fact that all those establishments that had engaged in price gouging were eventually held up for public scrutiny. Their names, after the price-fixing had been validated, were published in various local newspapers. Through word of mouth, those who had profited most from the despair of others during the Ice Storm, lost the most after the crisis had past.

I’m not saying we, as a community, need to engage in an economic witch hunt, storming the doors of unscrupulous businesses like a vigilante mob. But rather, we should take this opportunity to reflect upon our spending patterns. Look around and see who had the option to gouge you – and didn’t. Talk to friends and acquaintances and see which businesses went out of their way to actively help those in need during the blackout.

Then it comes the time for economic karma to kick in. Patronize those establishments. Let them know that the reason you’re shopping there is in appreciation of their efforts during the blackout. Let them know that you’re grateful for the fact that there were there in the bad times, and that you’ll be there for them in the good times.

Voice your disapproval to those who looked to make a fast buck at the expense of others. Explain that you’re not patronizing their establishment because of their lack of human kindness. Maybe then they’ll understand that the lure of easy money off the backs of those in need is not worth the long-term ill will it creates.

In a society where the price often determines our loyalty, perhaps its long past due that service and value are at a premium. Maybe out of the blackness of this outage, nice guys don’t have to finish last.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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