I was talking about public diplomacy to one of my friends the other day. He works in finance, does creative writing on the side, and is therefore both technical and open-minded; but has never learned about public diplomacy before. I gave him a brief overview of the field, including Nicholas Culls’s definitions of listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, international exchanges, international broadcasting, and psychological warfare. Afterwards, he remarked that public diplomacy is a very interesting field to be in at this time, with the onset of globalizations and whatnot. However, his interpretation ended up being that it’s a way of convincing the other cultures to act in ways we want them to. When I refuted this, stating how the U.S. is focusing on two-way engagements and effective cross-cultural communications, he reminded me that most nations are too proud and hesitant to truly cross-cultures.
When studying public diplomacy, I think it is all too often seen as an optimistic, good-hearted action; which it usually is. However, the side of influencing other cultures can have negative effects as well. The video on Mohammad that sparked outrage in the Middle East and government officials from South America studying American economic systems, initiating those systems in their home country only to have them result in more poverty, are only a couple examples.
I also told my friend that public diplomacy is done daily by just about everyone. He replied that a typical Valley girl living in Manhattan could really care less about someone living in Somalia. However, I told him that although she could care less, her workplace, which is undoubtedly diverse, and the clothing styles she wears are all affected by public diplomacy. He also stated that the only way to make a living out of it is to work for a government or a corporation. I convinced him that this wasn’t the case, that citizen diplomacy is a growing field that speakers, writers, singers, and even finance workers are all exposed to. People are constantly communicating across cultures and influencing opinions in one-way or another.
I’m far from a being a guru in the PD field, and there was more to our conversation than me convincing him the benefits of PD, but those were some thoughts I wanted to share. While we learn more and more about PD we need to also realize that people not staying up-to-date with the field will have different perceptions of the initiatives we explain to them. This may be obvious, but was interesting for me. I think practitioners should make an effort to speak with people more about PD and voice the benefits to spark discussion (hint-hint Smith-Mundt). Then the public can become more aware, and that girl from Manhattan just might share a fun Skype conversation with the man in Somalia.