Commentary: B.C.’s love affair with Dr. Bonnie Henry

Commentary: B.C.'s love affair with Dr. Bonnie Henry

It would be hard for Dr. Bonnie Henry not to notice that B.C. has a bit of a collective crush on her. It isn’t really a crush in the usual sense, although thinking of those shoes, it might be a little bit of that as well. However, it seems mostly an awareness that someone relatable emerged at the start of the pandemic, someone worth trusting in a crisis. This is good because trust in authorities is critical to gaining compliance when restrictions, inconvenient at best and devastating at worse, are put in place.

With each update Henry gives, the appreciation seems to grow. The first time she jolted everybody to attention was much earlier, the day she struggled to keep it together while clearly under a private kind of stress. What caught attention wasn’t so much the sudden tear in her eye, it was the Herculean effort to pull herself together, and her refusal to play the ‘look at me crying’ card.

Likely more was shared of herself that day than she would have wanted, but it endeared her to British Columbians at a time when it was needed. Her vulnerability, her humanity, seems to help people relax into the safety that comes of trust, and since then they have been steadfast in their regard. It may be in part why B.C. has fared so well.

Henry’s qualifications are assumed, she would not have the job if she was not an expert. Yet although such qualifications are critical to the job itself, it is surprisingly not what wins people over. It is, rather, an undefinable believability factor, found in this case by the doctor’s calm non-reactive manner. There is an absence of empty platitudes and worst-case scenario fear-mongering in her updates. She avoids using anecdotal incidents as proof of anything, and, perhaps above all else, she has a kindness that is almost palpable.

The updates faithfully delivered each day come from a place of mutual trust: Henry trusts people to exercise common sense, and they, in turn, trust her to give sound direction.

The leap from safety to fear might be a factor in the crush as well, resulting in a sort of variant of Stockholm Syndrome, with British Columbians as hostages of the pandemic and Henry, not as kidnapper but as someone with the power to keep us safe, someone to be trusted because there is no choice but to do so. The analogy doesn’t totally make sense, but that’s okay, nothing much about the pandemic makes sense.

On a lighter note, but on the radar of many despite being incidental to pandemics: Dr. Henry wears great shoes. Who can argue with this, they insist on being seen, these shoes. Is there some meaning to such a trivial observation? Perhaps it is an extension of the admiration felt for the doctor, or perhaps it is simply that the shoes demand to be admired. Either way, it’s fine. The shoes are good.

Bonnie Henry has become a sort of St. Bonnie of the Covidians, with many British Columbians crushing on their newfound saint. This adulation comes from a good place, yet being sanctified is unsustainable because it is only a prayer to an impossible standard. A fall becomes inevitable, as blind faith can quickly turn to feelings of betrayal. It is always the next page and is something to keep in mind as we turn toward the complicated process of emerging from our unnatural hibernation. Our experts are human, accept the good and forgive the rest.

For this reason, let’s not wish sainthood on Dr. Henry, except perhaps for this brief moment in a quickly forgotten story. It is sufficient to simply appreciate her for all that she does and to wish her the best, with heartfelt gratitude for a job well done.

Jo has been messing around with words for a long time. Sometimes she’ll just say the words rather than writing them, to save on paper. Occasionally words fail her, but when that happens she just rounds them up and forces them into sentences to keep them in line.

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Jo SladeJo Slade

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