“It’s so easy to laugh,
It’s so easy to hate,
It takes guts to be gentle and kind”
Lyrics by Morrissey to ‘I Know It’s Over’ by The Smiths
A recent survey carried out by the newspaper La Repubblica found that 80% of Italians think the country needs to be run by “un uomo forte” (a strong man). In 2006, only 55% of the populace subscribed to this view while 60% held this belief in 2010.
This rising trend is worrying and depressing on many counts. It indicates that more and more voters are willing to be represented by leaders solely on the basis that they adopt strong opinions and maintain a posture of decisiveness.
On the surface this may seem logical and uncontroversial. After all, who would want a leader to be weak and indecisive? The problem lies with what exactly is meant by the word ‘strong’.
Historically, in Italy, this has led to the seemingly irresistible rise of liars and tyrants like Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi. Both these men showed themselves to be ‘strong men'(“uomini forti”) but the major drawback was that they also happened to be fascist, racist and sexist megalomaniacs.
Strength is a good quality if it equates to the capacity to make bold decisions and stay true to one’s principles. But surely this also depends on what those decisions are and what principles they reflect.
If the same survey had asked the question ‘Do you think a leader should be a despotic xenophobe?’ I somehow doubt that so many would have concurred.
TV and social media in the modern age serve to reinforce and glamorize the image of decisive figureheads who exude power and authority. Bowing to the illusion of infallibility means that concepts such as co-operation and compromise are viewed as signs of weakness.
In a world where individuality and independence are uncritically celebrated, voters are easily seduced by so-called ‘powerful’ men like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. The consequences are clear to all with eyes to see and minds not blinded by hate, intolerance and prejudice.
In men, displays of strength mostly symbolize little more than macho posturing. Today, more than ever, we need deep thinking, compassion and decency.
Give me a leader who is gentle and kind any day!