Illness as Heroism: The Martial Metaphor

| April 8, 2020
Leadership, Uncategorized / Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

In this time of distress concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of Susan Sontag’s path-breaking 1978 book, Illness as Metaphor, which focuses on the common metaphor of disease as an enemy that we meet on the battlefield and against which those affected need to fight in order to triumph. In this context, someone who succumbs to a disease is implicitly characterized as not fighting hard or heroically enough. As we have proposed repeatedly, the heroic, militant model of leadership can be an over-simplified, less compassionate and complex representation of the dynamics, emotions, and empathy that human action and interaction involves. The war metaphor is widely prevalent in the midst of the current pandemic. Here is a recent argument–focusing on Chris Cuomo, a CNN journalist who has been infected with coronavirus–that calls this metaphor into question:

Chris Cuomo, Stay in Bed – Politico

Please share your comments and perspectives.

One thought on “Illness as Heroism: The Martial Metaphor

  1. As a former medical social worker I observed how “fighting for recovery” gave many patients the will to live and their families a purpose to rally around–” we are fighting with you/for you.” So, I understand how some leaders can effectively use the “war metaphor” as an approach to unify the community to “fight against” the pandemic. However, viewing “disease as an enemy we must fight” has increased feelings of anxiety, fear and weariness for many of us during this pandemic. Therefore, in my view, an effective leader must have the capacity calm the community; to promote behaviors and attitudes that create a sense of peace, empathy and good will. A good leaders reinforces that “we are all in this together” and reminds us that we should foster social connections while maintaining physical distance.

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