Emil Morales

Our Money or Our Lives—Are Our Leaders Listening?

(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

Emil Morales looks at how poor leadership and an inconsistent approach to defeating COVID-19 has resulted in a threat to even our most basic fundamental needs.


In April of this year, I wrote a piece entitled “Finding a Secure Bottom” published here on The Big Smoke America. A key theme of the piece was looking to elected leaders for answers and true leadership in the face of the duress caused by the current pandemic. Given the state of things in America, it is clear that only a few of those leaders have met the challenge. Why is that? By now, leaders clearly know the science. They witnessed early on the mind-numbing death and upheaval around the globe and yet we find ourselves in far greater peril than before. Clearly, leadership alone is insufficient when a society is fractured along so many lines.

In his groundbreaking theory of human behavior and motivations in 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote about a hierarchy of needs that drive our behavior. In his theories, the most fundamental level comprises our “basic needs,” physiological needs (food, water, shelter, rest) and safety needs (our safety and security). My novice analysis suggests that, unless these basic needs are met, there cannot be movement into the higher-ordered levels, psychological needs and self-fulfillment needs.

Putting this into more layperson’s terms, if the basics—food, housing, safety, security—are not in place as a foundation, it is hard to focus on higher-order behaviors. While some leaders and those advising them understand this and have tried to address it via initiatives focused on economic lifelines such as stimulus checks, PPP, and increased unemployment assistance, it’s simply too little to stem the massive psychological tsunami in caring for basic needs. Essential workers, however you define them, must work because they must meet the basic needs to survive. Is it any wonder that leaders are challenged in getting others to follow?


If leaders fail to focus on basic needs, we will remain victims to a virus that will not stop until there are no hosts left. A grim thought, but COVID-19 has no moral compass.


Add that basic survival need with a highly politicized environment, and the paranoia setting in that their world is running out of time with November looming, and you have the perfect “it’s all a hoax” storm. To date, 136,000 (and counting) of our loved ones in the United States have lost their lives. Another 580,000 have died globally. I dare any individual to look any of the affected families in the eye and tell them COVID-19 is a hoax. I doubt there will be many takers.

In the corporate world, an axiom often cited around leadership was “unless others will follow, you cannot be an effective leader.” People do want to follow leaders but unless leaders address the most basic of human needs it will remain virtually impossible to change behavior in the way our society needs to. We are asking people to make the choice between their money and their lives. For most in our society, money (or what it provides) is what is needed to live.

If leadership could more effectively address economic stability, I am convinced that most of our people have the space and the motivation to focus on behavioral changes and reverse the pandemic. Several European countries provided an economic security blanket early on. The results speak for themselves: lower cases and a lot fewer deaths.

If leaders fail to focus on basic needs, we will remain victims to a virus that will not stop until there are no hosts left. A grim thought, but COVID-19 has no moral compass.


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