Compassion Above All Else

by Olivia Garcia

Wars are won in one of two ways. Either you knock off your component with sheer brutal force or you both opt into peace treaties and compromise. But contrary to popular beliefs, we are not in a war. The Coronavirus is not an enemy we can fight with the usual tactics; like with guns or blowing things up.

The success of a nation has always been directly related to the strength of their leaders. However, the very presence of the novel Coronavirus has changed the word “strength” to “compassion”. Due to the fact this virus is not something we can blow up and obliterate, tactics that countries such as Russia, China, and the United States are used to, we have been challenged with thinking outside the box. This is a concept these three countries have a difficult time with. Nonetheless, the challenge then became “how do I alter my plan of attack?”

In my opinion, the very reason these next three countries were able to combat the virus so effectively is that they are able to think not based on the needs of security but the needs of their citizens. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen all quickly understood there was only one way they could fight the spread of COVID-19: compassion. Each country understood that in order to gain success over the virus, you needed to understand these three truths: act early, tell the truth, and lead with compassion. 

Each of these three countries all had early plans set up at the first sign of Coronavirus in their nations. By March 26, New Zealand Primeminister Jacinda Ardern implemented a four-level alert system to categorize and simplify the state of emergency her nation was in at any one time. By March 22, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had contact bans in place as well as mobilizing German troops to assist in the transition of normal to quarantine lifestyle. The country of Taiwan had an unusual advantage regarding the fight against COVID-19. In 2003, the country found itself handling an outbreak of the Swine Flu. This recent flu-like epidemic gave them an advantage in terms of planning ahead. They quickly understood the severity of the situation and trusted science in regard to their own decision making. It didn’t hurt that their vice president was Dr. Chen Chien-jen, a Taiwanese epidemiologist and politician. 

The second reason New Zealand, Germany, and Taiwan have had success in the fight against COVID-19 is that none of these leaders tried to downplay the severity of the virus. They were upfront and frank about the uncertainty the future had for them all. However, one thing they did not let happen was an out-of-control manifestation that this virus was something larger than they could handle. Jacinda Ardern never let fear manifest in her country. Whenever she addressed her citizens, she spoke plainly but with confidence. Understanding that fear derives from the lack of understanding within a situation, she always explained why every action was taking place. Within five weeks, Taiwan’s government swiftly put together a list of 124 action items that the Taiwanese National Health Command Center (TNHCC) would execute. These actions included border control, travel restrictions, case findings and analysis, resource allocation, and spreading political and communicative decisions. By streamlining the democratic process of decision making and passing of bills, they have surpassed all the “red tape.”

Finally, each region understood that the only way to win a fight against an invisible enemy was to get everyone on the same team. This is where I believe that it is important to speak about the fact that these three leaders are all women. Globally, the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 have been led by males. They have all instinctively downplayed the situation because their first concern is not for the mass population but for their personal political careers. None of these three countries did that. 

As soon as lockdown and halting of movement became the clear first step in stopping the spread of the virus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel understood the immediate concerns of her citizens and addressed them. As a human being, you need three things to survive: shelter, water, and food. Understanding what she was asking of her country, she tasked Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Kloeckner to find the solution to the possible food shortage as well as face the issue of panic buying before it became present. 

Besuch Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel im Rathaus Köln
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

Taiwan understood their population’s major concerns were about their own safety. President Tsai asked all private and public manufacturers to immediately start mass-producing supplies such as masks for both the public and healthcare systems. She then united Taiwan under one name, “Team Taiwan.” Instead of bringing fear and separation by not having unified decisions, like the USA, Tsai simply and effectively unified her country in one little slogan. By unifying the countries, the actions they took were more accepted. Having gained the public’s trust, each step she took to move forward was met with optimism. 

蔡英文官方元首肖像照
President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen

I do not believe that any country has done as well as New Zealand. In my opinion, New Zealand is the best example of how compassionate leadership can lead to positive, quick, and effective results. Much like Taiwan, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern knew that addressing her nation under one name would unify and connect her citizens. When addressing her country she would always end her statements with “Our team of 5 million.” She would approach the public confidently and with compassion, even taking the time to speak with children and answer their questions. She even held a press conference just to address children and explain why the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were having difficulties navigating around social distancing rules. Her slogans kept spirits high within communities. She expressed the message of kindness towards one another, rather than hatred toward an invisible virus. By changing the focus from scary health concerns to “let’s help each other out,” New Zealand is now in the stages of getting back to normal. 

Jacinda_Ardern,_2018
New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

The war with COVID is very simple. Those cities which are thriving and rebuilding their economies have leadership that puts the needs of their citizens first and above their own political likeness. They understood that within a state of emergency, their roles as president, chancellor, and prime minister are first and foremost to protect human life above political personal gain. In the words of our New Zealand friends: Be Kind and Stay Calm.

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