Sunday, May 2, 2010

Get Happy!

“Happiness is in the taste, and not in the things themselves; we are happy from possessing what we like, not from possessing what others like.”
--Francois de La Rochefoucauld

"[S]oft power — getting others to want the outcomes that you want — co-opts people rather than coerces them." -- Joseph S. Nye

It's Happiness Week at manIC, in celebration of the semester's end and the completion of all papers, exams and presentations. And I'm celebrating with a week's worth of posts on the subject of happiness, which is (as the quotes above suggest) intimately related to public diplomacy. One of PD's main objectives is to enhance national soft power, increasing the likelihood that all parties will share the same goals and be delighted in their achievement.

If you'll wait a few minutes so I can dust off my soapbox, I believe the quotes above also reveal what I see as one of the major weaknesses of public diplomacy, namely that it is so frequently a unidirectional enterprise. So many PD programs are developed from the perspective of getting others to want what we want (and I'm not trying to label anyone with the "we" here; that's just for grammatical simplicity), instead of identifying common goals and working towards them together. As de La Rochefoucauld would no doubt agree, there is some satisfaction in pleasing one's friends, but ultimately, people like what they like. But that hasn't stopped a lot of countries from using public diplomacy to show others what they should want.

America is definitely in the business of exporting happiness--via democracy and the products of the free market (see below).

U.S. public diplomacy, like the U.S. ad industry, seems certain that with the right product or the right philosophy, American-style euphoria could be yours. But are other countries really buying it? For nearly a century, the United States has been trying to convince its enemies and allies that freedom and democracy form a sure foundation for happiness and success, with no sign of abandoning the platform any time soon. So what does that say about the culture of the United States?

Perhaps John Updike said it best: "America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy."

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