Jacinda Ardern, at the opening of Te Rau Aroha at Waitangi, on 5 February 2020 / Altered / Wikimedia Commons
Is anyone else feeling nervous? As far as decades go, this past week has been a long one.
I’m trying to remember when I first heard of COVID-19, or “Coronavirus”. It must have been some months ago now, but I don’t remember feeling any major spike of fear. As millennials, we’ve lived through “Bird Flu” and “Swine Flu” both. They were buzzwords that flew around the community, but I strain to recall a nationwide response (granted I was in high school at the time and was a lot more interested in watching C4 than watching the news).
And while I know the financial crisis of 2007-08 affected our job prospects, I don’t remember feeling a major personal burden. It felt rather like something was happening on Mars, which was basically one and the same with Wall Street to a 14-year-old girl in West Auckland.
This is something different.
Not very long ago, I scoffed at the idea of “political leadership through a crisis”. I thought governments were best to get on with the job. I didn’t give much credence to the necessity of reassuring speeches. This was before March 15. This was before the White Island eruption. This was before COVID-19.
I now understand that reassuring speeches are more than a soothing balm. They are a necessity. Not in the way tough decisions like closing the borders or enforcing isolation are necessities, but a necessity nonetheless.
And not just in the sense of giving the country a ‘morale boost’. Speeches (or rather, clear communication from our leaders) are necessary in conveying the gravity of a situation, the steps the government is taking, and the actions we need to be implementing in our communities.
I don’t recall (at least in my lifetime) a leader who’s nailed that communication better than Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. And, as I follow the responses of different political leaders across the globe, I can’t help feeling that Jacinda Ardern’s response has been among the very best.
I can’t imagine the anxiety it must induce to have your country led by a thin-skinned narcissist, more interested in their approval ratings than public safety. That’s not even coded at anyone in particular.
Whatever your political leanings, you’d have to be purposefully obstinate not to recognize Ardern’s ability to navigate an emergency. And who could have predicted what she would have to lead us through? As far as I see it, Ardern has nailed the balance, working from a centre of calm attentiveness.
Too calm (for instance, claiming the virus would ‘disappear like a miracle’), and you risk underpreparing your constituents. Too manic, (say, testing everyone at the border) and you run the risk of depleting supplies. That Ardern has chosen to listen to experts, take decisive action early, and communicate those actions clearly, is a fantastic relief.
Community understanding is critical at this point. I can’t be the only one dismayed at the continued crowds on the street, or how difficult it is to ground your elderly relatives. I only hope that people begin to listen.
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