This year didn’t just bring pain, Dogwood columnist Qasim Rashid argues. It brought lessons in leadership.
Christians worldwide just celebrated Christmas 2020. But for many it was a modified Christmas, with zoom calls, google hangouts, and FaceTime. At least, that’s how it was for Christians in the United States. It was a similar experience for millions of Jews who spent their high holy days at home. As it was for Muslims who spent their holiest month of Ramdan and every worship service since, at home. As we wrap up a devastating 2020 and look forward to a hopefully brighter 2021, one underlying lesson we must carry with us is the irreplaceable importance of justice in leadership.
Leadership matters. For example, we cannot overstate the leadership of healthcare workers, frontline workers, and essential employees in 2020. They were provided inadequate resources, inadequate pay, and inadequate protections—but they led with justice and compassion regardless for the greater good of humanity. This isn’t to merely pat them on the back and say job well done. Rather, it’s to recognize how leaders rise above the difficult circumstances around them, accept responsibility, and do the best with what they have. It’s also a call to ensure that we provide these leaders with the actual practical and financial resources they need to do their jobs and to receive just compensation for their work.
Leadership Matters in Faith Communities
Leadership matters in faith communities as well. Many have rightly criticized extraordinarily wealthy faith leaders who took millions in PPP and small business benefits, while lower income communities and actual small businesses were left out. But moreover, and more importantly I argue, we must recognize and celebrate the faith leaders who worked around the clock to support the incarcerated, expand food drives to the hungry, and accommodate those in need of technology. Internationally, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad wrote to world heads of state, imploring them to exert all resources necessary to not only stop the spread of COVID-19, but also to ensure all people had access to food, water, and shelter. Likewise, His Holiness the Dalai Lama implored compassion, patience, and self-care during this difficult time.
And on the political front, we saw examples of exemplary leadership that served humanity, stopped COVID19, and built a brighter future. Perhaps no better example exists than of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, who took bold and decisive action to stop the spread of this deadly virus at a time when much of the world was slow to react. Under Prime Minister Arden’s leadership, New Zealand executed a COVID-19 elimination strategy of quarantining, mass testing, and limited movement.
As a result, New Zealand has in fact eliminated the virus, having suffered only 25 deaths and 2158 infections. For context and accounting for population differences, New Zealand suffered 5 deaths per million. The United States has so far suffered 1007 deaths per million, and rising.
We Have Hope
As we begin 2021, we have hope. Numerous highly effective vaccines are slowly but surely making their way to mass distribution, first to healthcare workers and the health compromised, and then to the rest of society on a need basis. The vaccines are being provided free of charge and production is quickly ramping up. But that optimism shouldn’t be blind to the danger that still lurks. As Joe Biden recently warned, the darkest days of COVID19 are still ahead of us. This may not be what we want to hear, but leadership isn’t about making people feel better with a false future. It’s about being honest and trusting that people are capable of handling that honesty. It’s also about knowing you cannot lead people unless they likewise trust you.
2020 was a difficult year for our nation and our world. But understand this painful truth—it didn’t have to be this way and the struggle is not over just yet. The silver lining in this truth, however, is that while we cannot undo the damage done, we can take decisive action to limit and eliminate the harm in the future. Leadership matters. And we have powerful examples of leadership from our healthcare professionals, faith leaders, and heads of state on how we can best move forward. Let’s do so, and ensure that in 2021, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of all faiths and no faith can enjoy a healthy celebration of the holidays and people important to them.
Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and former candidate for US Congress. He resides in Stafford, VA. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.