When leaders act like wolves instead of shepherds

Monday, March 30th, 2020 00:00 |
Coronavirus scare.

The coronavirus outbreak has redefined leadership. We see leadership as action. It about going forward: do things or stop things that protects or harm people’s lives, liberties and property. 

Covid-19 has forced into our minds a new conception of leadership. Apart from calling on leaders to provide direction on what ordinary people should do or not do to prevent contracting the disease, it is also calling on leaders to avoid mingling with people as they have done in the past.

The obligation to avoid mingling with people is especially incumbent upon all, including leaders, who have recently come from abroad. 

Leadership in this context is accepting to self-quarantine for 14 days—the period the virus is said to incubate.

Conscience obligates everybody—regardless of social position—to comply with the guidelines the government has given. Everybody owes a duty of care to everybody around them.

This is a moral obligation even though it has a legal foundation. The moral code on the Good Neighbour avers that we avoid acts which can harm our neighbour.

Political and religious leaders who travelled back from countries which have been hit by the scourge and failed to self-quarantine grossly violated the duty of care.

In principle, leaders are shepherds. They protect the flock from harm. The leaders who failed to self-quarantine on returning from abroad played the wolf, not the shepherd they ostensibly are.

That is not how other leaders of other countries have behaved. Mongolia’s President Battulga Khaltmaa and other government officials have submitted to 14-day quarantine after returning from China.

The same applied to Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau who went into isolation for 14 days after his wife tested positive for coronavirus on returning from London.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also self-quarantined after testing positive for Covid-19. Prince Charles is in self-isolation in Scotland after showing mild symptoms. That is leadership.

Leaders interact with more people in a day than ordinary people. They, therefore, pose more harm should they have contracted an infectious disease.

In Sophocles play Oedipus the King, when King Oedipus discovers he is responsible for the mysterious plague that has afflicted the city, bringing death to the people, livestock, and crops, he takes two long gold pins from Jocasta’s dress, and plunges them into his own eyes.

Kind Oedipus had, many years earlier saved the city by unraveling riddle posed by a Sphinx, thereby ending the turmoil that wracked the city.

He assumes office as a reward for solving a problem the city was facing. This epitomizes leadership as one which protects citizens from harm. Unfortunately, he is responsible for the second wave of pestilence as the gods are angry that he killed his own father—unknowingly—many years earlier.

He relinquishes office. Had he known that the man he had killed many years earlier was his own father, he wouldn’t have assumed kingship of the City even though he had helped the citizens to solve a problem.

The political and religious leaders who mingled with the citizens against the advice by the government acted in similar manner as King Oedipus in this play—recklessly mingling with the people when they should have self-quarantined. 

They would have saved their flock from contracting the Covid-19. — The writer is the communications officer, Ministry of Education

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