Waiheke, Aotearoa New Zealand

June 14, 2020

Kindness won.

pre-s. You can watch this week's video letter here. I got up way before dawn to shoot it for you. :)

This past Monday, our last active case of Covid-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand recovered, and there were no more cases in the country. At midnight, we moved down to "level 1" - basically, life pre-Covid-19, but with closed borders.

We're the 10th or 11th country to eliminate Covid, and the largest so far. And for me, the journey of doing it has been something new.

Going through this process with the "team of five million" - our entire population - has been unlike almost anything I've experienced in life, matched only by the solidarity I felt immediately after 9/11, living in the US.

There's been a sense of camaraderie, a kinship that underscored daily interactions. Everyone trying to keep everyone else safe.

It stretched us out, made new ways of being. Conversations with my neighbor, looped across our fences. Learning to navigate too-small sidewalks, yielding with kindness. Feeling every time I was out in public - for lack of a better word - like a team.

A lot has been written about Aotearoa's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. She's now navigated two of the country's biggest crises and given birth in the past three years, and she handled Covid brilliantly. I can't imagine anyone doing better.

But it's how she did it that has unexpectedly gave me real hope about the future.

Here in New Zealand, if there's one thing Covid-19 has done, it's strip down so much of the structure, partitions, walls that carve up our society and relationships. It's exposed the inequities and inequalities all around us. The folks who have access to health care. Education. The internet. The folks who don't.

Here, right after closing schools and moving to distance learning, many New Zealanders learned for the first time about the huge number of households right in their communities with many heads under a single roof, all sharing one mobile phone. "Distance learning" was simply not possible.

It's pushed us to face what was wrong, understand, and start to take actions to fix it.

And throughout the weeks of lockdown, through figuring out how to navigate those problems, and find new ways of making this nation function, there was one phrase we each held close.

Jacinda's refrain. Be kind. Be strong.

My eyes still tear up when I hear it. Feel a part of a team I'm proud to be on.

And to be clear and not offend all the kiwis by tall poppying: there is still lots of work yet to be done by this team of five million. Fixing two-hundred-year injustices. Figuring out how we're going to all make it through and pay our bills, with tourism, maybe 20% of our economy, gone for a few years at best.

But I am so, so positive about this place. About its people - who have discovered that their kindness is their superpower, the thing that gives them strength. About the future they will build. And I can't wait to pitch in.

I know that most of you reading this letter are living in places where Covid is still a huge problem, and a many of you are also wrestling with the injustice and inequaliites its's exposed in your societies.

So from here in New Zealand: Be kind. Be strong.

We all are in this together. It is not going to be easy. But with big hearts and hard work, we will emerge stronger, and better, at the end of it.

Have a hopeful week,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw all week was this fascinating look at something I never knew I'd find interesting - the intersection of anime, fashion, and culture.

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