The distinction between what is right and what is wrong has always seemed to be the principle upon which leaders are expected to act. However, there is another layer that will have to be added to that distinction: what is harder and what is easier to do. This has been known since times immemorial: “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” says Matthew 7:14.
It seems that political leaders in particular find it increasingly difficult to make hard choices. To address polarisation, disengagement, uncertainty and any of the major challenges we are confronted with, from inequality to migration to technological advancement, it will not be enough to simple listen to the people or talk to the people. This is not simply an issue of communication; it is far more than that. Leaders will have to identify the challenges, understand them, explain those in clear terms and find inclusive solutions that work for all. That will not happen if decision-makers continue to think in four- or five-year terms.
To give an example: political actors in Europe will be hiding the truth if they continue claiming that a half-baked deal with Turkey or a section of a fence here or there has solved the continent’s migration woes, as they have already been claiming in their 2019 European election campaigns. It is as wrong as it is easy. What will happen when migration will come back banging on Europe’s door? The United Nations estimate an additional workforce of one billion Africans by 2050.
Given the wellbeing differences between Europe and Africa, isn’t it rational to predict successive waves of African migrants, if no durable, sustainable solution is pursued? Building a wall is not a solution: walls come down as easily as they come up. Developing Africa is. That comes at a cost. Who will explain that to European citizens? Who still has the legitimacy and charisma to explain that?
What will the leaders of 2019 – those who relied on the falsehood of easy solutions – say in 2040 or 2050? Most of them will be out of action by then. However, the generation of today’s young decision-makers, or anyone who aspires to be part of it, will have to make a hard choice now: tell the truth and channel their energy and ingenuity in finding solutions that are deliverable, sustainable, and strive to work for all. It is, after all, a choice, albeit a hard one. However, that is what distinguishes a leader from one who’s simply looking for a career. Professor Albus Dumbledore put it in words quite plain for all to understand in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”