Why Do People Ignore Common Sense in a Crisis?

Some of the links in this post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Since this article was first written in 2019, we’ve had a pandemic, more hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and most recently, the winter storm that locked most of the U.S. in killing-cold temperatures and conditions. Still, this question remains: Why do people ignore common sense in a crisis, even when they’re forewarned of its severity?

I published this article shortly after Hurricane Harvey turned into a life-changing monster here in Texas. This is what I wrote.

image: woman in white shirt holding pillow over her ears ignores common sense

The Effects of Hurricane Harvey

We aren’t far from Houston and have been keeping tabs on the massive flooding and rescues. It’s doubtful my husband will have an office to report to on Monday morning.

Local and national news sources are reporting hundreds of rescues — people driving into areas that are clearly flooded, people remaining in their homes until they are waist-deep in water and have no way out.

People’s Choices: A Facebook Discussion

In a Facebook discussion you can read here, people are frustrated and confused by such stupidity. Here are a few excerpts:

  • Cristene asks, “Why didn’t you leave when you had the chance? For your kids’ sake? Why?”
  • Aline, “They had several days of warning…they didn’t have to leave at one time.”
  • Lisa, “They may not have known exactly where it would make landfall, but they knew it was coming and that it was very slow moving…people need to use their brains and whether or not some “government official” said to evac or not, should know enough to get the hell out.”
  • Bill, “What did people think? A huge hurricane was coming but would cause no change to the area around them? Ignorance can kill.”

Every one of these people is exactly right.

How often do we need to hear, “Turn around, don’t drown,” to convince us that driving into a flooded street, even if it appears to be safe, may be deadly?

And the families stranded on rooftops…Do they not have the sense that God gave a duck (as one of my aunts used to say) to get out while they could?

Well, there are a few answers to these questions, and the blame doesn’t lie entirely on the heads of these desperate people.

Reasons People Appear to Ignore Common Sense

We all fall prey to cognitive biases, mental shortcuts that help us simplify but also misinterpret the really enormous amount of information we must process on a daily basis.

Let’s look at three reasons folks will do the exact opposite of what we consider any sane person would do in a crisis:

1) People tend to believe their own data only

First, and this one is important, PEOPLE BELIEVE THEIR OWN DATA.

Years ago, I had a co-worker who would only ever believe the “experts” she consulted and her own personal experiences. If someone had a contrary opinion or relayed information from a different, authoritative source, her own personal evidence was the only information she believed.

Confirmation bias plays a role in this. That’s our tendency to seek, interpret, give preference to, and remember facts and evidence in a way that confirms what we already believed. There is an unwillingness to consider other possibilities.

2) It won’t happen to me…until it’s happening to me

For those who make apparently foolish decisions in the face of a crisis, the truth is that for many, it’s only when their car’s engine is flooded or their home begins filling up with water that they believe it could happen to them.

This leads to normalcy bias, which I’ve written about at length in this article. Our wonderful, incredible brains insist that everything is fine and life will continue as usual as its way of maintaining psychological and emotional equilibrium.

And, as I’ve learned personally, once you’ve experienced one hurricane after another or a series of similar crises, you do tend to believe that everything will be fine. It’s a combination of the brain sending the message and then the receiver being too willing to believe. This is posited as a factor in the handling of the December 2022 storm in Buffalo, New York, a city well-accustomed to such hazards.

3) People actually don’t have the necessary resources

Then, there are practical reasons for people showing an apparent lack of common sense. In many cases, people have no resources for evacuations. They may have no money for a hotel and no family or friends with whom they can stay.

Additionally, if they are overworked and over-stressed, they have probably not spent much time researching survival and preparedness.

Then again, several other reasons for not listening to advice, warnings, and even orders might be explained in this article.

But…it really isn’t all that hard to be ready!

I began prepping, as it’s called, almost nine years ago when the storm clouds of a major economic recession began to appear, and I’m so glad I did. I started with storing water, buying extra toilet paper, and stocking up on canned food. Just the very basics. I was on my own and had to do all my own research and learn from my own mistakes.

For some, that works, but for most people, they don’t have time for all the research or money for expensive mistakes in spite of knowing full well they need to prepare. As I’ve been saying, everyone will have their own “Harvey.” For me, it’s this massive hurricane and floods that will last for weeks. For you, it might be a job loss, a power outage that lasts for several days, an earthquake, or other natural disasters — trust me, there are plenty of “Harveys”!

Unlike me, though, you don’t have to go it alone. In my Fast Track Prepping course, I’ll guide you through each step. By the time you’ve finished, you’ll have three weeks worth of preps! Won’t that feel good? Get all the details and sign up here.

One Last Thought

Even though it’s frustrating to watch people ignore common sense and put themselves, their loved ones, and often first responders in more danger, it also doesn’t help to demonize people. Instead, encourage where you can, educate where there is interest, and help as you see fit. 

Why do you think people ignore common sense in a crisis? Share in the comments!

Originally published March 12, 2019; updated by the Survival Mom editors.

2 thoughts on “Why Do People Ignore Common Sense in a Crisis?”

  1. what is amazing is everyone thinks the worst is over and we still have days of Harvey…they do not take into account that we are downstream from the reservoir release, 25″ more inches over the next few days, the crest of Brazos at 96 feet. When I posted info on the reservoir link, some guy made a comment that it did not affect us…..where do you think “downstream” is? It is all coming here (South). I had one friend that had only gotten some sprinkling and kept brushing it off and woke up to 3 feet of water in his apartment. I keep trying to get him to make a plan, stock extra water, etc. He keeps saying he’ll just go to his parents and I ask “what if you can’t get there?” Guess what? they was too much water to get to his moms. And everyone seems to not be taking this seriously and then the multiple mandatory evacuations with NO warning. THIS is our SHTF….this is going to put Houston out financially for a long time.

  2. Rob in Kentucky

    “Common sense is not so common.” ~ Voltaire 1694-1778

    ​François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume “Voltaire”, was an 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher, famous for his wit and his advocacy of freedom of speech. One of his most popular quotes is the beautifully simple: “Common sense is not so common.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *