Disclaimer: I do not know Jacinda Ardern personally - nor have I ever had the opportunity to speak with her (as much as I'd love to). This piece reflects my own observations, projections (there, I said it!) and opinions (that's different from facts!), not those of Jacinda Ardern or the Labour party. - I just hope she'd agree.
So I'm told never discuss taxes, politics or religion - well - here goes....
Last night the New Zealand Labour party, led by Jacinda Ardern, received a landslide result and a largely unprecedented mandate to continue governing this small country of New Zealand, way down at the bottom of the earth. To those who have followed the polling and public discourse over the last few months, the election results were not necessarily surprising, but possibly unexpected in their magnitude.
Once the results firmed up around the 49% mark - resulting in an absolute majority of parliamentary seats - it was time for Jacinda Ardern to address her party - and her country.
Jacinda Ardern's victory speech - well crafted as always - may, however, have communicated more non-verbally than what was actually said.
Unlike what we may have expected, who entered the stage was not a fist pumping, victory-sign-flashing politician on a dopamine high (imagine Donald in this scenario!) but an unpretentious, understated young woman with a mix of elation and concern written onto her face.
During the first part of her speech, despite the overwhelming success and victory, Jacinda Ardern seemed tired and somewhat exhausted, underneath the well controlled mannerisms and carefully crafted words. Explainable, of course, by the obvious demands of being on the 'campaign trail' for the last few weeks and months while fighting a global pandemic and - incidentally - ridding New Zealand of the virus for the third time in the process. Let alone raising a small child at the same time (which is enough to exhaust most of us).
But maybe there was more to it than that.
Through the words, I felt like I could glimpse a part of her that may have secretly been wishing for a different outcome, one that would have sent her to the opposition bench and thus out of politics - free to spend time with her precious daughter and family. As a mother, I would by no means be surprised - although I may well be projecting.
And, maybe, a part of her that may be wishing she did not have to step out to slay the dragon.
Of course this is not who she is and it is obvious that our "team of 5 million" is in need and desire of her attention and focus. So even though that part of her may well exist - there was never a question she's step up and stay committed to job at hand, 100%.
Aside from the obvious though, I wonder if there was another level of exhaustion. The exhaustion of acting out of integrity after being more or less forced onto a 'classic campaign trail' through a cocktail of Judith Collins, standard practice and public/media expectation. I am not sure if the possibility to radically change an election campaign really existed within the forcefield that surrounded it - but I am almost certain that, if Jacinda could have had it her way, the last few weeks would have looked radically different.
Which kind of brings me to my point. My sense is that last nights election results were more than a strong mandate for the NZ labour party and a vote of confidence in Jacinda Ardern's leadership. My hallucination is that last nights election results were a - possibly unconscious - majority vote for a new way of BEING.
Which brings me to the point in Jacinda Ardern's victory speech where she talked about the 'increasingly polarized times we are living in".
If there was one single biggest mistake that opponent Judith Collins made (and continues to make), in my opinion, it was to completely and utterly miss the writing on the wall - and forcing a campaign based on the old, outdated and boring-as-hell method of polarization.
More than anything, I imagine this being the cause of Jacinda Ardern's exhaustion - being forced by circumstance into a way of BEING that is not really in line with the identity she has created for herself. Despite being called the 'greatest communicator of our time', which makes up for a whole lot - there was, at times, almost a sense of disbelief or confusion about her during this campaign, as if what she really wanted to say was "I can't believe we're still playing this stupid game - just grow up". The fact that she was confronted with someone who not only seemed to lack alternatives, but even takes pride in being some sort of a dinosaur in that sense (who wants to be called the 'crusher' for goodness sake?!?) only seemed to increase that confusion, but also served to force her into inauthentic territory at times.
Here's the thing though - I believe, on some level, we ALL share this exhaustion - and the confusion - not just in New Zealand. We DO live in increasingly polarized times. The reasons for this are, I believe, manifold: If you have watched the "Social Dilemma" (highly recommend) you may have gained an understanding how our use of technology and social media results in amplification of our opinions - by design, but not necessarily by intent. Yes, our attention is being trade off like a rented mule, the intention is monetization of our attention (or - in Judith Collins' case: gaining the attention of voters) - and the tools to achieve that are more and more sophisticated ways of capturing that very attention. I don't even necessarily believe there's any malicious intent in terms of undermining our social fabric or pushing any particular agenda. What leads to this crisis is more likely the combination of our own negativity bias and our mind's tendency to look for threats (which has kept us alive as a species) which happens to be picked up and amplified by the algorithm because it happens to be driving our attention.
Combined, this takes us onto something of a death spiral - one which is quite likely not actually compatible with our model of democracy at all. The idea of democracy was conceived in much smaller communities with a bell-shaped distribution of opinions, leading to a somewhat moderate manifestation of collective intelligence. Currently we're messing with the shape of this bell curve through social media algorithms, flattening the middle and increasing the edges. What this means going forward warrants a whole other investigation.
What we are collectively experiencing as a result, however, is polarity exhaustion. We don't want to argue anymore, yet we also can't stop. We hate it, but we love it. We are trapped between our instincts to defend ourselves and our opinions as a matter of survival - and our equally human desire to find peace, to connect, to "love each other". (Apparently, Jacinda Ardern in her early days was heard to have said the Labour party was about 'love', greatly confusing some of those who overhead this statement).
So Judith Collins tested us all on that. She tossed the bait of polarity out there to see if we would take it. Unfortunately - as Ran Prieur in his 'parable of the violent tribe' identified so well - the aggressive paradigm always wins. Which left Jacinda Ardern with no choice other than to try and stumble along on that fine line between getting drawn into the drama or quitting the game altogether (which would have meant, again, that the aggressive paradigm wins).
So now what?
Here's my hope: I hope that we all - including Jacinda Ardern - can see these election results as an expression of desire, of collective positive intent. Yes, we're all still trapped in our old narrative - of polarity, of scarcity, of competition, of economic growth, of dog-eats-dog, of exploitation, of colonialization - all of that. But through their vote this weekend, NZers have expressed their intent, their readiness to try and do things differently. They have shown they are as exhausted by this game as Jacinda appeared to be - and ready to abandon the CERTAINTY of what is familiar for the chance of finding a new way forward.
This election was a vote of trust, a vote of hope. And a vote for choosing love and compassion over polarity - without really knowing what that means and even though polarity still has its' icy grip on us. It was a vote for our humanity 'in principle'.
The question remains what we'll do with it. And our eyes are on this young woman who is now faced with the challenge of TRUE leadership - leadership into a territory that is still completely unknown.
Up until now, coalition arrangements meant being politically constrained by the old story that made radical change practically impossible. With these shackles removed, the only limits to our possible transformation are our courage - and our trust.
I saw hope and joy return to Jacinda Ardern's face when she spoke about what lights her up most: a vision for a better world. Opportunity. Fixing what's broken. Coming up with a new story. That's when life returned to her face - and, with it, her determination, strength and courage.
Being courageous doesn't mean not having fear. And it would be plain naïve and stupid to not be feeling fear when tasked with leading an entire country, however small, out of converging crises of health, economic collapse, polarization and climate breakdown. It would be INHUMAN not to be absolutely fucking terrified. But our chance at true transformation is not determined by the degree of fear we are experiencing - it is determined by our degree of courage.
Yes, last nights' election results were a 'mandate to accelerate'. But what if they were more than that? What if they were an expression of all our courage - our courage to let go of an old narrative and make room for something new. Something unknown. Something we will have to figure out as we go, just like we had to figure out our response to COVID-19 as we went.
The opportunities lying ahead now are much much bigger than just 'economic recovery after COVID-19'. They are even bigger than 'building back better'. I'm tempted to say the opportunities ahead now are for a radical transformation that is nothing but short of a leap in evolution. And as I open my mind to the magnitude of this opportunity, Jacinda Ardern - despite everything she already is and stands for - seems like a female version of David in the face of the Goliath that is our entire industrial civilization. And my feeling last night was that, on some level, she sensed that too.
The thing is though - every opportunity is an opening - nothing more. It's POTENTIAL change. An open door does not mean we'll step through it. We could close it again. We could stick our head through and have a look, but not enter. We could turn around and look for another door. We could even pretend it was never there in the first place. The options are endless.
So one possible conclusion to this article could be to say 'Well, let's see what she makes of it' - but that would be completely and utterly diminishing myself and the role and potential of everyone around me.
A more exciting, more empowering and far more hopeful conclusion from last nights election results is this: Let's interpret them as a 'mandate to accelerate' for all of us.
Despite the fear, the uncertainty, the struggle we are all going through at the moment, a vast majority of us have expressed an intention to choose courage and hope - and a general willingness to not only embrace change, but to CREATE it. This task is not just the responsibility of one courageous leader - it's the responsibility of all of us to choose again, every single day, to ask ourselves who we TRULY are, who we WANT to be - and how we want our world to be. The responsibility to choose to focus on solutions, engage our creativity - and be courageous again, every single day.
So my call to action to myself and everyone who made that choice in the last few weeks is this: Lets get on our feet and stand beside our courageous leader. Lets accept that we won't get it all right first time, lets accept that we'll have to figure shit out as we go. Let's embrace setbacks and mistakes that will happen and use them to rapidly learn and adapt. Let's shift our focus onto what we WANT, not what we don't want. Let's allow ourselves, right now in this time, to DREAM up new ideas and solutions, to do the unprecedented, the unusual - so that we can all move forward together.
New Zealand is a tiny island at the bottom of the world. But we have opened a door stepping through which could set a precedent for a transformation that could well sweep the globe. Because I think it's not just us here who are exhausted and who are ready for something new.
Realizing this opportunity is not up to Jacinda Ardern or the Labour party - it's up to all of us. My sense is we have just elected a leader who is courageous enough to jump in with us for the ride. A leader who has already shown that she holds values that allow for true transformation. Let's make the most of that. Let's START moving.
Natalie is an accredited judge, sustainability expert and executive coach with strong views on doing what it takes to make the world how we want it to be. You can find out more about her on www.imaginal.co.nz or www.nataliehormann.com.