I’ve never been to New Zealand, but it has been on the list of countries I would love to visit for a long time. In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque tragedy which occurred there last week, my desire to visit New Zealand has heightened. From the numerous accounts I have heard from friends about the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people, I knew it would be a wonderful place to visit, but now I can add an even more important reason to travel there – this country knows what leadership looks like.
I had never heard of Jacinda Ardern, current Prime Minister of New Zealand before last week. However, when she became visible on the world stage following the Christchurch mosque terrorist attack, in speaking about this tragedy, her carefully chosen and resolute language exuded intelligence, strength, and compassion for the victims and New Zealand. She left no stone unturned in unequivocally denouncing the terrorist and the hate-filled political ideologies from which his actions sprung. Listening to Jacinda Ardern speak, I felt hope springing eternal that despite New Zealand experiencing its ‘darkest day’ in history that the country would heal in a way that would only make it stronger.
And that is exactly what appears to be happening. Besides the flower-filled memorial in front of the mosque, people stepped up their actions to include escorting Muslims to mosques, standing guard outside of mosques while Muslims were inside, and helping their Muslim neighbors. Ardern’s message reminded the world that New Zealand’s population was diverse and tolerant and no terrorist attack would change that. I was proud of her when she said that the terrorist’s message had ‘no place in New Zealand, or for that matter, in the world.’ Ardern’s words are in stark contrast to those of Trump following the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia white nationalist attack – ‘there is blame on both sides’ – a contrast between leadership and incompetence, or cynically, leadership versus disingenuousness.
Researching Ardern’s background has reinforced my admiration for her. At thirty-eight years old, this social democrat, progressive, and feminist has amassed an impressive list of political credentials. She is the youngest woman leader of a country, elected at 37 years old as Prime Minister of New Zealand in October 2017. When she gave birth last year to a daughter, she became only the second woman to do so while serving as the head of government. Raised in the Mormon faith, she disavowed this religion because it conflicted with her support for LGBT rights.
As the number of political hopefuls continues to emerge in this country, regardless of political affiliation, I suggest they take time from their political campaigns to examine what leadership looks like in New Zealand. Amid the continuous noise and confusion fomented by social media and current occupants in political leadership roles, how refreshing to have an example of someone who doesn’t pander to the worst in human nature for political gain, but instead stands firm in her appeal to higher ideals.