Honor and The Lost Art of Diplomacy

The killing of Osama bin Laden brought me back to a time thirty years ago when I passed by the Pakistani military base in Abbottabad near bin Laden's compound. Afghan man - Peshawar desert camp I was in Pakistan for the summer working with a refugee agency. We traveled all over northern Pakistan looking for small encampments of Afghan refugees who had fled their country during the Soviet invasion. 

This picture is of an Afghan man whose family was camped on a hot, desert plain between Peshawar and the famed Khyber Pass.  We took food, clothing and some tents to this small, very destitute camp of a few hundred people. After our truck was unloaded, this man came up to me, took both my hands in his, shook them, and then reached up and stroked the beard on my chin.

Our guide told me that what he had done was to honor me with his respect and thanks in a very traditional Afghan manner.

Last week I attended the retirement dinner of a gentleman with whom I had occasion to work with over the past few years. It was a nice event to honor his service, and celebrate the next stage of life for he and his wife.

I went not because we were close friends and colleagues, but to honor him and his service. It was something I did as much for me as for him. By that I mean that it was important for me to take the time, make the sacrifice to travel out of town to honor him. In honoring him, I supported what I believe is a missing practice in our society.

Honor is more that recognition for someone's service. It is the respect we owe to one another. It is how our relationships are intended to function in society.

Think for a moment of your office. Let the faces and names of all the people with whom you regularly interact pass before you. Imagine what the workplace would be like if each of you honored one another as your ongoing practice of relating.

Honor is the respect that lies at the heart of diplomacy.

Diplomacy is the practice of respect applied in places of diverse cultures. It is the ability of one person to be able to empathize with another person, even though their cultural, ethnic and philosophical backgrounds are not similar.

It was what made my encounter with this Afghan gentleman so influential upon my life. We had nothing in common, at all, yet we connected at a level of respect that I don't with people who are much more like me. Our diplomatic moment was an act of gratitude on his part. I was honored by his thanks, and I share his story today was a way of thanking him in abstentia for teaching me a lesson that I would have never learned in a book.

This type of respect is a form of humility that places the dignity of the other person ahead of one's own prerogatives. It is what I see missing in much of the social and civic interaction that takes place in our society. I fear this kind of diplomacy will retreat further into obscurity as we entered the 2012 political campaign season.

How I am approaching the 2012 campaign.

I am an independent, undecided, non-aligned voter.  I am neither liberal nor conservative, neither Republican nor Democrat. I am a political outlier.

I have decided that I'm going to keep a running tab in my head as to whose supporters are the nastiest, most divisive, most condescending of the campaign. I will base my vote on the candidate and his or her supporters by who shows the highest level of respect and honor to their opponents and their supporters. 

My reason for doing this is that I can no longer stand the way we practice politics.  The practice of demonizing your opponent is a practice of cowardice and dishonor. It is cowardice because it plays to the crudest, most divisive elements of our society, as if they are those who hold genuine power. They do not.

It is dishonorable because its purpose is to demean and defeat, not by intellectual reason and logical persuasion, but by the destruction of the person him or herself.

I feel so strongly about this that I have also decided to refuse to buy the books of authors, watch the movies and television shows of actors, and follow those public figures who practice divisive politics. The beauty of social media, of Twitter and Facebook in particular, is that it shows the true colors of those who practice this sort of political gamesmanship. I don't care how important your latest book is, or whether your movie has Oscar potential, if you lower yourself into the gutter of dishonorable politics, I'll delete your blog from my Google reader and your books boxed and put away in a closet. 

My point has nothing to do with the positions of your candidate or your political party. It has everything to do with civility, honor, and yes, diplomacy.

What I've learned.

To live with honor and to practice diplomacy in our daily lives is not easy. It is counter-cultural, even prophetic in its application to our world today. It means that while we may disagree with another person, we can also honor them with respect, even if their behavior is a demonstration of a lack of their own self-respect.

I understand, therefore, that as we enter this new Presidential election campaign season, that your candidate is dishonored when you treat his or her opponents and supporters with dishonor.

I understand that your reasons for not voting for your candidate's opponent are not the same as having positive reasons for voting for them.

I understand that while pollsters say that negative campaigning wins votes, that it also poisons the well of respect that is required for the diplomacy that civic leadership demands.

I understand that dishonor in any context easily finds it way into others. Consider carefully what kind of atmosphere you want in your social and organizational life. The line between politics and the rest of life and work is razor thin.

I understand that to be honorable and diplomatic does not mean you give up your values and principles. It means that you do not win by destroying the other person. You lose by dishonoring your own values.

The place of Honor in The Five Actions of Gratitude Five Actions of Gratitude - blogpix

Honor Others is the fourth action of the Five Actions of Gratitude. Without this action, the other four are not sustainable.For to live with honor in one's relationships requires the ability to recognize the value and dignity of other people, which is the basis of diplomacy.

When we find reason to Say Thanks, we are seeing a quality in that other person that is worth recognizing.

When we Give Back, we are recognizing, like my Afghan friend, the gifts that others have made to our lives.

When we Make Welcome, we are saying to those we treat hospitably that we honor you by opening up ourselves to you.

When we Create Goodness, we do so with a view to contribute, to make a difference to others, to others we honor by our acts of goodness.

I take my cue from the advice that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, Greece two millennia ago.

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

This is the high standard that honor demands. It is not idealistic to believe so. It is logical and pragmatic to recognize that a team or an organization or a nation that acts in this way will be stronger, more confident, and better able to manage the constantly shifting environment that our world provides us.

To honor is to be fully human. To practice dishonor is to lose our humanity.  It is a choice we make every day. And it is a choice that we will make on November 6, 2012.