Are Preppers Responsible for the Unprepared?

By Patrice Lewis

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8

It’s probably the most dreaded phrase any prepper can hear: “If the bleep hits the fan, I’ll just come live with you.”  It encapsulates one of the thorniest issues facing preppers: what to do with those who won’t prepare.

A few years ago, a certified emergency manager at FEMA (I’ll call her “Ms. Smith”) inadvertently opened up an enormous can of worms by calling preppers “socially selfish” on an emergency management blog.  She based her comments solely on the people portrayed in the National Geographic “Doomsday Preppers” reality television show.  After she was universally slammed when her comments went viral, she made numerous blundering attempts to clarify her position.

The gist of her opinion was that because the people featured in the show were spending their own time and their own money to stockpile their own resources in order to prepare their own families for whatever disastrous scenario they foresaw, they were selfish. Specifically, as another emergency manager phrased it, this is “a level of indulgence that is selfish and counter-productive to providing for the common good.”

The common good.  Really.  Since when is it any one person’s obligation to provide “for the common good”?

In an effort to clarify her position, Ms. Smith wrote a follow-up piece entitled “What we have here is a failure to communicate” in which she labored to distinguish between “doomsday preppers” (whom she still believes are selfish) and “disaster preppers” who are shiningly good with halos over their heads.

The distinction between these two types of preppers appears to be based solely on Ms. Smith’s opinion of the preppers’ plans for their own supplies. These are the supplies, I’ll remind everyone, which preppers spent their own money, time, and effort to acquire. Without the slightest bit of evidence or proof, Ms. Smith claimed doomsday preppers will never, ever share their supplies with anyone else; whereas disaster preppers will be the souls of generosity who will unhesitatingly distribute everything they have, without reimbursement or complaint, during an emergency.

I, along with many in the prepping community, found this attitude disturbing to the point of creepy.  It was exacerbated by the follow-up comments as she replied to reader questions.  “It really doesn’t matter how much food you have or what you buy with your money,” she wrote in a comment. “The tipping point is how you use it. … Is it something you are planning to hoard or are you working in your community to make sure everyone else is prepared also. I’m not sure how else to say it.”

Oh, you said it just fine. We got the message loud and clear. You want preppers to release their “hoarded” supplies during an emergency to unprepared people who – despite all warnings – preferred to spend their surplus cash on big-screen TVs and iPads instead of beans and rice. Remind me again, who’s selfish?

This woman, let me remind you, works for FEMA.

The reason her post caused such a firestorm is because it hit upon a very sensitive sore spot among preppers; namely, are preppers responsible for the unprepared?

In everything I’ve ever written about prepping, I make a huge distinction between those who cannot prepare, and those who will not.  I’ve made it abundantly clear the two groups should be treated differently, and that the former should be treated with much more mercy and compassion than the latter.

Prepping shouldn’t make us lose our humanity.  Of all the life forms on earth, only humans routinely give care and service to those in need. To that end, we should all give some thought to those who might have to lean on us in hard times.  The most obvious people are the elderly, the disabled, children, those in truly dire financial circumstances, etc.

But what about the other types?  What about those who could have prepared, but chose not to?  Just because someone pokes fun at your “lunacy” of storing beans and rice and ridicules your efforts to become more self-sufficient doesn’t mean they aren’t also a beloved family member or friend.  Many people have adult children or older parents who aren’t “on board” with preparedness, but this doesn’t mean we don’t love them to pieces.  And their flippant solution– “Well if things get tough, we’ll just come live with you”–might well become a reality.  So what’s a prepper to do?

This is a thorny issue with infinite possibilities.  At one end of the spectrum are those who spend all their free time ridiculing your prepping efforts and calling you merry but rude names for your concerns about the future.  These are the types who come swaggering up, confident and cocky that you’ll be delighted to share your supplies with them.  If the bleep was to hit the fan and they came knocking at your door asking for help, what would you do?

At the other end of the spectrum are those who live a comfortable lifestyle and simply are unaware of any potential problems. They don’t believe the economy could ever collapse or anything could ever happen to the power grid.  These people aren’t “bad,” they’re just clueless.  If the lights go out for the last time and they came knocking at your door asking for help, what then? There are endless variables among those who will not prepare, and endless variables that will dictate our actions. But a time may come when they will become supplicants for our charity. A lot will depend on the attitude of the supplicant, but the fact remains none of us can operate a never-ending soup kitchen. We should not compromise the safety of our own family to help others. Or should we?

It would be nice if all preppers could put aside a certain portion of their supplies for charitable aid (one prepper I know says he sets aside approximately 5 percent of his preps for such purposes), but not everyone can.  A lot of people are prepping by the skin of their teeth and can barely pull together suitable supplies to meet the needs of their own families.  What should we do?

So I asked for reader input on my blog; namely, how far should our mercy and charity extend toward those who were unwilling to prepare, even when they could? As expected, responses to this question ranged from “I don’t care – I’ll meet them at the door with a shotgun” to “Jesus died for everyone, including the unprepared – I’ll give them everything I have.”  Many readers spoke about the skill levels and willingness to work of those asking for handouts.

Most answers boiled down to a triage system as follows:

  • Go away. It’s not that I don’t love you or want to help, but we barely have enough to survive and I can’t let my family starve.
  • Come live with us. We know you’re ill/elderly/handicapped/otherwise incapable of fending for yourself, but we love you and want to make sure you’re cared for.
  • Come live with us. You are a beloved family member/friend. Since times are tight, we hope you’ll pitch in and help with the work.
  • Come live with us, but you’ll work for your food. You will help weed the garden, care for the livestock, dig a new outhouse, guard the perimeter of the property, or otherwise make yourself useful in whatever we ask you to do. If your attitude smacks of ingratitude or slothfulness, we’ll show you the door.
  • Go away. Here’s some food for the road. Please don’t come back.
  • Go away. Here’s some food for the road. If you come back again, you’ll be greeted with a shotgun.
  • Go away. You treated us like dirt for 20 years and now you want to be our best friend? No.
  • Go away. See my shotgun? I consider you a threat and a danger to my family.

Bottom line: It is my opinion we are not responsible for the unprepared; but it behooves us to help, when and if we can, if it won’t hurt our families.  Only you can decide into which of the above categories you put someone.

But remember one thing: As much as we would like to take the “moral” high ground and refuse to assist anyone of those selfish people who refused to lift a finger to store beans and rice, the day may come when you are the supplicant.  A fire, an earthquake, a hurricane, a job loss, an illness, an accident – any of these can change you in an instant from a prepper to a beggar.  How would you want to be treated?

It’s a question worth asking.

Patrice Lewis is a wife, mother, homesteader, homeschooler, author, blogger, columnist, and speaker. An advocate of simple living and self-sufficiency, she and her husband, Don, operate a home-based woodcraft business and farm twenty acres in rural north Idaho. Patrice and her husband have been married twenty-four years and have two daughters, ages 16 and 18. Follow her blog at www.rural-revolution.com.

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