Sometimes it's best to ditch diplomacyby Sanden Totten, Minnesota Public Radio
Diplomacy has its limits and some wonder if talk is the right solution. Listen to stories from a pastor with a quick tongue, a diplomat's daughter fighting for her child, and a transsexual tired of rude comments. All have ditched diplomacy for confrontation, with mixed results.
St. Paul, Minn. — You don't expect a Methodist pastor to descend to name-calling. But that's what Mark Peacock did when he was trying to win support for a new bike path in his community. He realized he couldn't convince his County Board representative to agree with him through negotiation.
"So I zapped off a letter to the newspaper saying basically we are being held hostage by a bunch of financial skinheads on the county board. Well, 'financial skinheads' went over really well," Peacock laughed.
He tried to rally support for his cause through outrage. And it worked.
"So people stopped me in the hallway and patted me on the back. I got stopped outside the post office and congratulated; 'Boy you really nailed them! Financial skinheads!'"
Peacock says he felt great. The bike path was slated for construction. But over time something began to trouble him. Insulting others wasn't in line with his faith, and as an active member of the community, it would only cause him grief in the future.
"Eventually you need to talk to people. When you tag someone and demonize them they are not much inclined to work with you. We got problems we really need to solve, and we need to be co-operating instead of zinging each other," says Peacock.
To mend fences, he publicly apologized. He says he learned a lesson in diplomacy he thinks our current administration should consider.
"And so to label regimes, 'the axis of evil' was the kind of clever phrase I might have come up with. But in terms of who we were trying to change, it was counterproductive," Peacock says.
Peacock ditched diplomacy and then regretted it. For Greta Anderson, it was the only way to get what she wanted.
Anderson is the daughter of a career diplomat who served all over Europe and Asia. She is a former international purchasing agent who now stays home with her two sons.
Anderson has played nice and preserved relationships all her life. That is, until one of her sons needed her help.
"Bram is the younger, the one with autism, and he's really into garbage right now," Anderson says.
Her youngest son was diagnosed as autistic when he was 2. Anderson read everything she could find on autism, and when she asked her family doctor for a special treatment for her son, he flat-out refused.
"It made me angry. It was that kind of, 'I'm the doctor, this is what it is.' After two years of doing a lot of research and living with the autism, the doctor just invalidated everything I knew," Anderson recalls.
In the past, Anderson argued with her doctor over various treatments, to no avail. He wouldn't listen. She had a choice, escalate and fight, give in, or disengage. She decided to find a new doctor.
"You're coming up a against a brick wall. You are trying to get around it diplomatically -- to get them to understand your point of view. And some of them can't get around it."
Anderson ditched diplomacy and got what she needed. But it's not a strategy that's open to everyone.
Take Lisa Ragsdale. Her daily life is strewn with people who confront her.
"I was just going to take a walk. This young black man is coming the other way. He goes, 'You are a guy, right?' I just started walking the other way. I just turn my head, 'No, I'm not a guy.'"
Ragsdale is a male-to-female transsexual. She underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1996. While estimates of the number of transsexuals living in the U.S. are hard to come by, it's safe to say that it's rare. For Ragsdale, her male voice and female body can attract rude comments and trouble from people.
"When they see or experience someone who is radically different from them, especially a transsexual type person, they're just offended. They are like, 'Eww, get away from me, you creep me out.'"
Ragsdale says diplomacy got her nowhere with some people. This was especially true at her last job. Eventually she had to leave, to escape a demeaning boss.
"I said, 'Fine, I don't care, I don't like the job I don't like you, just forget it.' I had done all the diplomacy and courteousness I could and nothing was working. So I said, 'forget it.' I didn't want to be there."
Ragsdale is still unemployed.
Ditching diplomacy clearly comes with a cost, whether it is losing relationships, losing your livelihood, or for nations, losing security and even losing lives in war.
Those costs are what keep people talking and governments negotiating, and why diplomacy is so ingrained in daily life. It is also why knowing when to ditch diplomacy is so hard -- and so important.
- All Things Considered, 11/17/2006, 6:20 p.m.