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Not Only a Health Issue: Why Leadership can't Neglect Social Civility
As the spread of COVID-19 continues, leaders and institutions are doing their best to react to, remediate, and adapt to the impact that the novel virus has had on our society so far.
It is clear that in North America, the exponential growth of the number of infected people has put an extreme amount of pressure and stress on our economic and healthcare systems. Not only that, but the measures we have to take to contain the virus have also had implications on our socio-economic structure due to a fragile balance between the cost of living and average income. A disruption like this has exposed how frail our society is when it comes to ensuring that people can maintain their quality of life throughout an emergency.
Experts that anticipated these conditions have been able to do so not because their lack of trust or confidence in our society, but because our institutions have neglected or dismissed things like universal healthcare, student-loan debt, livable wages, and employment insurance as good enough simply because there was no obvious crisis in the status quo.
Though people are arguably experiencing a quality of life greater than ever before, the distance between the richest and poorest in society continues to grow and is obvious in how each segment is handling the adjustment to living through the pandemic. The difficulties we are currently experiencing are due to the emergence of multiple defects in the system at once.
Outside of addressing public health concerns, and taking measures to flatten the curve, there has been a rise in racist and xenophobic speech and sentiment on social media. People have been perpetuating these harmful sentiments by scapegoating specific ethnicities and blaming them not only for the spread of the virus, but for its existence.
An emerging issue in the United Kingdom right now is with the ventilators currently being manufactured by Dyson. While there is a shortage of mechanical ventilators in the UK and more would save lives, there are people in the UK expressing their concern that the products are being developed and shipped from Singapore. Some people have said that the UK should deny any imports from Asia, and others appear to be dissatisfied that the production is contributing to the economy in Malaysia rather than in the UK.
For whatever reason, leaders have remained silent on the issue of racism and xenophobia related to the Dyson ventilators. What the world needs is leaders who recognize their responsibility and obligation to set an example for each of us to follow, and remaining silent on an issue this serious is not right. The priority is the health and safety of people by containing the virus. Not whether the government should order life-saving equipment from a foreign based company, or whether those factory workers might deliberately infect more people by assembling that equipment.
Leadership requires awareness of what is going on and who is impacted. Silence is not an option. We need people to share their views and to come up with solutions, and to recognize that there are ramifications that come with how we proceed through the pandemic. There is no reason to allow such attitudes to continue unchallenged while working to ensure everyone’s safety.
In closing, I want to leave you with a proverb, though its exact cultural and national origins are unknown, is attributed to Africa.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”