A rousing speech by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has been doing the rounds on social media with a thundering response from netizens lauding her for her leadership response to the pandemic. During a budget session at the German Parliament, a day after Germany hit a record high of 590 deaths, Merkel made an evocative appeal to listeners to regard the pandemic with sobriety over the holidays. She iterated in German that if the virus spread “ends up making it the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we will have failed.”
While social media users and global commentators hail Merkel for her impassioned Christmas speech, there is one statement she made that exclusively stuck with me. While speaking about the recourse education will have to take by way of online classes or other means for students, she bluntly stated, “I don’t know, this is not my area of expertise and I don’t want to interfere.” Leaving the doors of policy open to experts on her team more well-versed than her in reforms, Merkel displayed a sense of humility that not many world leaders possess, let alone would dare express. And in a time of global crisis as this, when entire countries are starved for hope, love, and stability, isn’t empathy and informed action the only way to go?
Watch a clip of Merkel’s speech below:
"I really am sorry, from the bottom of my heart. But if the price we pay is 590 deaths a day then this is unacceptable."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pleads with the public to follow #COVID19 restrictions ahead of Christmas.pic.twitter.com/64erfwK0CA
— Richard Chambers (@newschambers) December 9, 2020
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Why Merkel’s Statement Isn’t A Mark Of Weakness, But Strength
It was established, by various think tanks and experts, at the very start of the pandemic that countries that dealt best with the COVID-19 crisis all had one common factor: women leaders. Merkel in Germany, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, Mette Frederiksen in Denmark were all named by Forbes as having the most effective crisis response. Even as neighboring countries were following lax restrictions, Merkel very early on told her country, “It’s serious. Take it seriously.”
The one thing women leaders bring to the table, that few male leaders do, is an acknowledgment and show of emotion. Merkel in her Christmas speech – and other leaders in the past like Jacinda Ardern, Erna Solberg, and Sanna Marin – appealed to the emotions of her country people. Her words, full of sentiment, indicated that any reaction to this deadly virus isn’t an overreaction. Neither is it weak nor is it “hormonal” (as many behaviours of women leaders in various fields are often termed). It is but the only intelligent course of action.
Does her admission that she doesn’t know what reforms are best suited to online classes during the pandemic indicate weak leadership? Does it lessen her position in the eyes of her citizens? Is it a mark of ill-information or is it just a regular human quality we all possess? Every leader of state has an administrative cabinet to advise her/him/them on effective policies. Why then must a leader pretend to harbour a facade of a know-it-all attitude?
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The World Needs More Women Leaders
Women are often barred from – or are hesitatingly offered – high positions in offices, for fear that their alleged feminine fragility or weakness of emotion will hamper industrial growth. But do workplaces, especially political ones, have to necessarily be a hub high on testosterone-induced egos that rely on chest-thumping leadership? Female politicians have busted this gendered narrative that limits women from realising their capacities and strengthens the glass ceiling further. Emotions are necessary for human survival. It is much of what binds the world together, in joys and crises. Why then must they be shielded from view?
Earlier during the year, Norway’s PM Solberg held a kids-only press conference where no adults were allowed. Meanwhile, PM Ardern in September was noted for making a public appearance without a face mask, for which she drew extensive flak. She immediately apologised for her oversight and assured her citizens of better caution next time. How many world leaders would be as humble as these women, without caring about their inflated egos? How many would exercise such empathy and accountability?
Imagine the simplicity of politics and public appeal if the world were to have more leaders like Merkel, Solberg, and Ardern. If it was understood that humility, humour, and empathy – softer skills that are dismissed from seemingly “fast-paced” jobs – are absolutely imperative. That the optics of public image should not be allowed to override emotions. Even in politics. Especially in politics.
Views expressed are the author’s own.