Toilet paper as essential? | Column

A monthly column about mindfulness and mental well-being.

By Dora Gyarmati

Special to the Reporter

Who in their right mind thinks of toilet paper as necessary, unless you are a business?

Maybe Americans are not as familiar with the bidet as Europeans. In case you never experienced the joy of a bidet, it is a small bowl or receptacle, usually positioned adjacent to the toilet, for the purpose of sitting on top of it while washing one’s butt. It is quite a joy to finish one’s daily routine with a clean, sparkling butt. No toilet paper required, since you just scoot over from the toilet, use soap and water, followed by a beautiful 100% Egyptian cotton towel.

Since bidets are highly personal, they are only used in the privacy of homes or hotel rooms. They are not available for businesses (thank goodness — that would not be very hygienic.) Therefore, toilet paper is only essential for businesses. At home, ladies and gentlemen, you can wash your butt.

I regret to say, after years of begging for a bidet, my American home is still missing one. This error should be rectified after a few more years of whining and complaining to my husband. In the meantime, there is a shower. In the case of the toilet paper shortage, one can take a short shower, the waist-down version.

OK – so granted, I was a bit long-winded with this bidet business. Still, I felt it was necessary to establish how amazingly unnecessary toilet paper can be during a lockdown compared to eggs, milk, food in general, and if you are like me, coffee.

So how did we get here? How in the world did all of America attack the local grocery stores like zombies in the hope of resurrection?

I’ve got two words to explain: confabulation in combination with groupthink. The power of these two psychological concepts goes well beyond the butt. It affects all aspects of life. If we wish to live in a peaceful, mindful, constructive coexistence with one and other, we must learn to recognize when we get trapped by these two phenomena.

Confabulation is defined as the production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted ideas about oneself or the world. People who confabulate jump to conclusions based on random data.

Groupthink is defined as psychological phenomena that occur within a group of people with a desire for harmony and a sense of power within the group. This often results in an irrational self and/or world view. But this cohesiveness creates a sense of empowerment in opposition to the other, whether the other is an idea or another group or person. Thus, members agree at all costs without critical evaluation.

In simple words, somebody jumped to the conclusion that toilet paper was necessary for survival during the lockdown. Buying toilet paper is something that we can do. We have control over it. Thus, it became the one thing that we all wanted to do. It became that small thing to cling to during the time of uncertainty that we somehow still controlled. Also, having toilet paper became the thing that gave every individual a sense of power and control over current events.

Does toilet paper really give you power? Well, if you are European, you simply cringe and say no, you just end up with a still dirty, smelly butt. Wash that thing, would you? OK – all joking aside, no, there is no power behind this elusive paper. It is fabricated. It is untrue. You only think you are in control.

Now in case of the WC paper, this is simply funny. But think how often humans used groupthink, unexamined, unquestioned to create power for a group of people, in order to suppress other races. Think of the propaganda against Jews, black people, and so many other minorities.

And in more private and work settings, how often did a child get bullied for being different? Well, that is groupthink as well — a bunch of insecure kids who may look popular on the outside, gang up against a seemingly “weaker” child to feel power and cohesion in a group.

Or think of a boss, or teacher who is holding up standards, ethics and trying to educate, a concept that is not popular. One way to create a sense of power and feeling of success over this individual is to make the person wrong and have the group agree. This agreement is so powerful the rationality and truth behind it don’t matter. All that matters is that now the group feels triumphant.

But it is not triumph – it is all made up (stuff) worthy of all the toilet paper that we just purchased, and worthy of a flush down.

Mindfulness teaches us to recognize our thoughts and emotions, to investigate and question, and then to act with wisdom and virtue.

Of course, we can use the power of group thinking for good as well – it is just a bit more difficult. For some reason it is harder to propagate an idea that genuinely benefits us, but it is worth every effort.

Dora Gyarmati teaches yoga and mindfulness classes in person and online. She owns Spira Power Yoga in Issaquah and West Seattle. Her company M3Bmethod also lectures on resiliency and stress management.