An effective diplomat: then and now

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Where I’m at: Arlington, VA, thinking about Ohio’s hills and caves, dreaming about Africa’s wild forests

What I’m doing (besides the above): putting a frustrating week of French behind me

Why I’m posting: because I received a contemplative email to match my contemplative mood


I couldn’t resist posting this email from a diplomat friend. He’s been working in Jerusalem for a bit now on his first tour and understandably is swamped. Always well read (as well as well-built), my colleague had this to say and to recall regarding what it is that we do (it’s impossible for a diplomat to not compare him/herself to even the comical points on this list):

“Anyways, the weight of what these peace talks may mean has put me in a somewhat philosophical mood, and, as such, I decided to go back to the memoirs of a veteran British diplomat, Harold Nicolson, who took part in the Treaty of Versailles, establishing the peace after WWI.  As we all now know, that peace proved to be tenuous and the horrors of WWII came to revisit the errors that were made by those diplomats in 1919. But I came across something that I think is worth sharing with all of us as we begin our careers in this chosen profession.  Below is Nicolson’s list of qualities that a truly effective diplomat must possess, ranging from the wise (“truthfulness”) to the outdated (“being able to affix carbon papers”) to the humorous (“a capacity for enduring long dinner parties”):

“They should possess the following qualities: health, rapidity of understanding, patience, comparative sanity, great physical endurance, charm, no class prejudice either up or down, immense curiosity, a neat
manner with maps and papers, industry, accuracy, the power to ask inconvenient questions at the wrong moment, no very outstanding physical disadvantages, intimacy with the private secretaries of their own plenipotentiaries, the good taste to disguise that intimacy, some acquaintance with the more obscure press correspondents, the habit of looking upwards and not downwards when they don’t know the answer,
courtesy, being able to type and affix carbon papers, a slight but not obtrusive acquaintance with economics, cleanliness, sobriety on all fitting occasions, cheerfulness, statistics derived from sources even more recondite and anonymous than those possessed by their foreign colleagues, some proficiency in the literature or architecture of at least one very oppressed nationality, a capacity for enduring long
dinner parties, honesty, a faculty of speaking rapidly and well such languages as their foreign colleagues do not speak rapidly or well, no consummate belief in the immediate wisdom of the People or the Press,
a good memory, truthfulness, and above all, a complete sterilization of all human vanity.”


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