• Toughness When We Need It

    These are tough times – and many of us are doing it tough. Fortunately, we have a leader whose toughness has matched what our problems demand, if they are to be confronted and overcome.

    I wonder how many people have marvelled, as I have, at the sheer mental and physical toughness shown by our Prime Minister as she has negotiated her way through the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic – day after day, week after week, and month after month?

    As one who has had personal experience of the mental and physical toll exacted by leading a life in the public gaze, by public speaking, by doing repeated television and radio interviews, and by giving regular press conferences, I can only wonder at how Jacinda Ardern has kept going, given the pressure she is under for every minute of the day. The mental and nervous energy required to expose oneself repeatedly to public scrutiny in this way is enormous.

    Surveys have shown that being faced with having to speak in public is the prospect that people find most frightening – but she takes it in her stride.

    How does a young woman and mother, with a little toddler to look after, find the time to get herself briefed daily by her science and health advisers, consult with her Cabinet and individual ministers, front up in parliament, report daily to the nation on radio and television and have herself grilled by commentators and journalists every day, and then reach critical decisions on the hugely important issues she has to face. How does that young woman find the inner strength to make tough decisions on issues that would have daunted most ordinary people – and most world leaders as well?

    Where does that sheer stamina and self-belief come from? How does she get to re-charge her batteries, day after day?

    How many of us would be able to think clearly and act decisively when faced with our own pressing problems, let alone those of the country as a whole?

    We have a Prime Minister who is renowned worldwide for her kindness and empathy but who has shown, in addition to that, an ability, unmatched by any other world leader, to take the tough decisions.

    A Donald Trump, for all his macho posturing, has quailed, and failed to meet his responsibilities. He has been overwhelmed and shown himself categorically to lack the qualities needed in a leader at a time of national emergency. He has no plan, no strategy, to defeat the pandemic. Bluster is no substitute for decisive action.

    There are other leaders too – Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and even Boris Johnson of the UK – who have talked in a macho way and then failed miserably to take any effective action.

    Which of us, and which of other world leaders, would have had the sheer audacity to commit a whole country to lockdown overnight – but she did!

    That audacity saved tens of thousands of lives and, since the one is the corollary of the other, helped to protect our economy as well.

    She has shown, in other words, that she can bear on her slight shoulders the heaviest of burdens.

    The lesson we must draw is that “toughness” is not to be established by just claiming to be tough, or by being a bruiser, or by bullying and throwing your weight around, or by treating people harshly, without courtesy and respect.

    The toughness we need is of a different kind; it is the readiness to face up to and deal with the harsh realities and unprecedented challenges of a pandemic that has reached a scale and severity unique in human history; it is the energy and bravery and self-confidence, the guts and determination, to find a way through and around it on behalf of all of us.

    Bryan Gould
    3 September 2020

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