The accelerating spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, brings with it some valuable lessons and opportunities for growth. We are learning firsthand the dangers of putting up with leaders who are dishonest and untruthful and who are more concerned with their own interests, whether political, personal, or financial, than the interests of the people they represent. We are becoming more deeply aware that truthfulness and trustworthiness are no longer qualities that are merely desirable in our leaders. Rather, they are essential and non-negotiable criteria of electability, as our very lives depend on them.
COVID-19 is affording us the opportunity to witness firsthand the disastrous ramifications of a culture of obfuscation, concealment, and outright lying that has become endemic to our social and political lives worldwide. In the midst of this public health crisis, the inability to trust what our leaders tell us can prove fatal. If we find our leaders have downplayed the severity of the contagion as occurred in China, Iran, and currently in the United States, why should we believe them when they tell us that it is time for drastic measures such as quarantine? Similarly, if our leaders have misled us regarding the availability of medical equipment such as masks, ventilators, and hospital beds, we are more likely to believe rumors and to discard instructions not to hoard materials, such as masks, that must be reserved for our health workers — our first line of defense.
Consumer Confidence Replaced by Fear
Even when it comes to the likely economic fallout from the coronavirus infection, our past experience with health crises indicates that only one third of the economic impact is attributable directly to the crisis, for example as a result of death, inability to go to work, and reduced production. By contrast, as Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund explains in a recent interview on the PBS News Hour, a whopping two thirds of the economic impact is due to loss of confidence and uncertainty. Leaders have the responsibility to bolster our confidence by being open, transparent, and truthful; at the very least they must refrain from behavior that exacerbates any existing uncertainty and confusion or contributes to loss of confidence.
What Can We Do?
The good news is that if we don’t like the state our world is in, we are not stuck with it, nor are we doomed to repeat the habits and patterns of the past if they no longer serve us. We have the opportunity to make different and more empowering choices that will eventually change our social reality. We could begin by demanding that candidates for political leadership be known for their qualities of honesty, truthfulness, and consequent trustworthiness, which we know are so crucial to our wellbeing and security. We should prioritize such qualities over platforms and promises, many of which are often left unfulfilled.
If we are to be successful in electing leaders worthy of our trust, we must first be willing to continually hone our ability to investigate the truth without prior prejudices or conceptions. In other words, we must refuse to abdicate our responsibility to discern the truth by blindly believing everything we are told regardless of the reliability of the source.
Evaluating the Candidates
Having adopted this new mindset, we must examine the motives, record of service, and demonstrated qualities of the candidates. In the digital age, such information is relatively easy to ascertain. It is not hard to glean information about a person’s past dealings, both in matters of family and business. If a candidate has shown themselves to be incapable of being faithful to their spouse, the one person they have sworn to love and cherish all their lives, why would we expect them to treat us, the unknown masses any differently? It doesn’t make sense to assume that, once in office, they would miraculously transform their character and demonstrate a high degree of loyalty to their electorate. Maybe they will, but chances are they won’t. The same holds true for those who have demonstrated their untrustworthiness in business dealings. If they have been in the habit of cheating, lying, and fraudulently dealing with their business partners, vendors, or customers, why would we have any expectation that they would behave differently once they are in positions of power and subject to greater temptation of larger rewards? It is similarly easy to ascertain a person’s motives based on their record of service: Have they been more interested in advancing their own ego and interests or have they consistently demonstrated that they put the interests of their communities above their own?
In sum, our experience with the coronavirus, while painful, is also providing us a rich opportunity to build a more peaceful and secure world. If we start by recognizing that we have the power to make different, more constructive choices by honing our individual ability to investigate the truth for ourselves and by demanding that our leaders possess the qualities of honesty and trustworthiness, we will have taken some crucial strides toward such a peaceful and secure world.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.