Social media has been flooded with the already-iconic images, taken by the Christchurch City Council’s photographer Kirk Hargreaves, of an emotional Prime Minister Ardern embracing the victims’ families, with compassion and sincerity we rarely see from politicians.
Strong leadership: New Zealand Prime Minister @jacindaardern visits grieving Muslim families, wearing hijab as a sign of respect.
She tells them: You are us. pic.twitter.com/rhglbJyZ36
— Negar Mortazavi نگار مرتضوی (@NegarMortazavi) March 16, 2019
Snippets from her many unforgettable speeches and comments have spread like wildfire almost from the minute she uttered them.
On the victims. “They are us.”
On the killer. “You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.”
What can the US do to help? Offer ‘sympathy and love to all Muslim communities.’
On the killer again. “He will, when I speak, be nameless.”
On her own state. “How am I? Thank you for asking. I’m very sad.”
On Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg offering to visit New Zealand? ‘I’m not interested in a PR exercise.’
— TIME (@TIME) March 20, 2019
In her nation’s darkest days Ardern, at just 38 the youngest global leader in the world today, has not put a foot wrong. But better than that, it seems, she is entirely disinterested in where her foot is or isn’t. It seems, she simply wants to turn up and help however she can, and every day since Friday that’s exactly what she has done. With respect and dignity.
Earlier this week I observed the sadly stark contrast between the unity and compassion and leadership on display in New Zealand and the rancorous, petty and bitter dialogue Australia couldn’t help but descend into. With every passing day it seems, impossibly, that chasm grows.
In part, no doubt, we are all enchanted with Ardern’s leadership because in the wake of something as atrocious as a mass shooting of innocent victims we need something good to turn to. We need a reason to hope. We know to “look for the helpers” and Ardern is the helper we all need to see.
But to depict the strength and appeal of her leadership as merely situational, a reflection of what we need in these days, is naïve. She is a leader for all seasons.
Empathy is not a card she’s playing because New Zealand needs it at this point in time: it’s been marked throughout her prime ministership. So too vision, authenticity, respect and a commitment to doing things differently.
Here in Australia the sad reality is we have settled for too long. We have lacked true leadership for almost a full decade. This is not necessarily because the various candidates in the PM’s office have all lacked the empathy or intelligence or capacity to lead effectively, but because for a variety of reasons and circumstances they have either chosen not to exercise it, were forced to hide it or simply lacked it.
As a result, bereft of true leadership, we have teetered between degrees of mediocrity. We have been forced to accept the “least bad” option for too long. Here, it’s been easy to believe that’s just the way things are.
It is the contrast, that @hamishNews describes, between the responses offered to Waleed after his considered & emotional reflection on Friday night by @jacindaardern & @ScottMorrisonMP that says everything. https://t.co/Ancwlvos3o
— Georgie Dent (@georgiedent) March 20, 2019
Watching Jacinda Ardern act with integrity and authenticity and compassion has been powerful to behold not just because it’s what her nation so desperately needs, but because it proves to us that there is another option. There is another way to lead.
Not just in the past six days, Jacinda Ardern has shown us what is possible when a political leader is brave and open-minded and generous.
In her we see how desperately inadequate the alternative to that is. It’s all we’ve had for too long.