Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Win Friends and Influence People

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...

John Donne knew a thing or two about communalism, and even though he lived many years before globalization he appreciated the interdependence of humans and countries. Tragedy affects groups, not individuals. Some may suffer more than others, but nobody suffers in isolation. No man is an island offers insight not just into the human condition, but into modern international politics as well.

Fortunately, for the optimists in the crowd, there's a flip side to the coin. Catastrophes have repercussions beyond the communities they affect -- but rapid and effective solutions also have a ripple effect. Today's Washington Post reports on Pakistan's devastating monsoon floods, and a $55 billion U.S. assistance package:

While the ultimate impact on Pakistani public opinion is unknown, the United States has earned rare and almost universal praise here for acting quickly to speed aid to those hit hardest.

Rapid, visible and effective aid has gained immediate approval from a desperate nation. However -- as the article points out -- "that feeling is unlikely to translate into any immediate improvement in underlying Pakistani attitudes toward the United States." Here again is one of the major themes underlying discussions of effective PD: Even effective campaigns are unlikely to overturn opinions rooted in cultural differences and attitudes about foreign policy. The solution to this problem may lie not in the method of outreach, but in its underlying ideology and in policies grounded in a respectful collaboration towards mutual goals.

The catch, of course, comes in situations where two countries must work together without sharing the same objectives. In such cases, it may be helpful to come back to Donne and remember that no man -- or woman, or country for that matter -- is an island. It's overly simplistic to imagine that such a solution is universally applicable. Some people and nations have irreconcilable goals. Faith and trust may not be automatic solutions, but they are essential components of successful public diplomacy (and foreign policy) campaigns.

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