Culture

How the world is reacting to Jacinda Ardern’s compassionate leadership style

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 17: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hugs a mosque-goer at the Kilbirnie Mosque on March 17, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. 50 people are confirmed dead and 36 are injured still in hospital following shooting attacks on two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, 15 March. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

From the outset she has talked about kindness and compassion being a strong component of her government and its policies.

In a BBC interview last November Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had made a conscious decision to be a “proudly empathetic, compassionately-driven” leader.

She said she was “trying to chart a different path”, explaining, “We teach kindness and empathy and compassion to our children but then we somehow, when it comes to political leadership, want a complete absence of that. So I am trying to chart a different path. That will attract critics. But I can only be true to myself and the form of leadership that I believe in.”

No one could have foreseen the horrific events that unfolded on 15 March in Christchurch, when a gunman opened fire on hundreds of innocent people from the Muslim community as they prayed at two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50.

Australian Brenton Terrant appeared in court on Saturday on a charge of murder. He was remanded in custody without plea and will appear again on April 5. The unprecedented violence, swiftly acknowledged as an act of terrorism, sent the nation into a state of deep shock and disbelief.

Never before has New Zealand seen anything like it and if there was ever a time for the country to have a leader who values kindness and compassion as highly as fiscal responsibility, it is now.

Jacinda Ardern is walking her talk and has undoubtedly set the tone for the huge outpouring of love and support that New Zealanders have shown to the Muslim community in recent days.
Could there have been a more powerfully symbolic response to the carnage of Friday afternoon than the footage and images that emerged on Saturday of Ardern in a head scarf, face drawn, embracing members of the Islamic community in Christchurch?

When Donald Trump asked her how the US could help, she replied: “Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”

On Friday and over the weekend, thousands of New Zealanders turned out to mosques and other places of significance all over the country to lay flowers and pay their respects. Vigils have been kept and prayers shared.

“They are us,” she said of the victims at the earliest opportunity on Friday. “This is your home, you should have been safe here… This is not the New Zealand we know.”
At the same time she told the perpetrators: “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 19: People view flowers and tributes by the botanical gardens on March 19, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. 50 people were killed, and dozens are still injured in hospital after a gunman opened fire on two Christchurch mosques on Friday, 15 March. The accused attacker, 28-year-old Australian, Brenton Tarrant, has been charged with murder and remanded in custody until April 5. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Ardern tellingly said in November, “Now it’s a global market. And with that comes, I think, a little bit of fear. Fear of job security, fear around whether or not your children will have the same opportunities that you had.

“So our response as political leaders can be twofold. We can capitalise on that fear by blaming others, and saying that the answer is to become more and more insular, to become protectionist, to build up those walls around us, so that we can retreat back to yesteryear.

“The alternative for us is actually to give a message of hope that we can provide for our domestic constituencies… And if we choose not to blame. And so I put myself firmly in that constituency. We have a responsibility as politicians for the language that we use, but also the policies that we provide and the hope that we deliver.”


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While no leader would ever want to have to lead a country through an event like this, Jacinda Ardern, with her distinctive style of leadership and unwavering focus on humanity, has perhaps united New Zealanders in a way that few leaders could.

The rest of the world could do well to take note – and they have, with international media and commentators praising her actions and giving her acclaim for her response to this atrocity.

Here are some of the most noteworthy quotes that we’ve read about New Zealand’s political leader in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks:


Ms Ardern is one out of the box, a leader for her times, ideally suited to guide her country through this catastrophe.

— Peter Fitzimons, Sydney Morning Herald


The calm and compassion shown by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in response to the killing of 50 Muslims by a suspected white supremacist has burnished the credentials of a leader whose youth and celebrity had given critics’ doubts. In the hours after the carnage in Christchurch on Friday left New Zealanders reeling, the 38-year-old Ardern struck all the right notes.

— John Mair and Praveen Menon, Reuters


Ardern has moulded a different consensus, demonstrating action, care, unity. Terrorism sees difference and wants to annihilate it. Ardern sees difference and wants to respect it, embrace it and connect with it. Here is an atheist showing that love will dismantle hate. This is leadership, this light she shines, guiding us though to a world where we see the best of us as well as the worst.

— Suzanne Moore, The Guardian


Ms. Arden provided a frame for national grief by embracing the Muslim immigrant community and by firmly insisting, in a tweet after the attack, “Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities — New Zealand is their home — they are us.” She set the tone for the country’s response, framed the incident as a terrorist attack and insisted that her country will reject violent extremism.

— Sushil Aaron, The New York Times


This week the world watched as a woman, new mother and Prime Minister demonstrated typically “feminine” behaviour. And she has proven just how powerful that can be.

— Jamila Rizvi, Future Women


Her approach — adopted so swiftly as to guarantee its authenticity — has been to eschew partisan point-scoring and apply herself entirely to the task of holding a wounded nation together… Ms Ardern then made herself physically and respectfully present within the Muslim community as the grief exploded around her country.

— Annabel Crabb, ABC News Australia


Photos: Getty Images

A version of this article originally appeared on Now To Love.

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