Stop the Worrying
Two of the most important words -- and concepts -- in a leader's tool kit are "context" and "perspective."
Swine flu is a potentially serious problem (although "panic" hardly seems likely in any case; worry, perhaps). The most important thing for the national leadership to do in a case like this is simply not to lend any credibility to the suggestion that there's anything to panic about. This is done, first, by taking appropriate measures to identify outbreaks, isolate them, and have treatment options available, and by communicating to the public (a) what has been done to address and mitigate the problem, and (b) appropriate precautions by members of the public. It's that simple.
Here's the context: This illness arrives in the United States at a time when the nation is well prepared for such a challenge with an alert public health community, stockpiled medicines, etc. Here's the perspective: Even in Mexico, the nation hardest hit, the number of people affected is proportionally small and the number whose illness is quite serious is smaller yet. One should take precautions, but it's not as dangerous as many of the activities we engage in every day (driving, for example). To coin a phrase, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- and fear is a crippling thing; leaders don't generate fear, they defuse it.
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