Dear Policy Makers,
My mother taught me a very important lesson that I would like to pass along to you: use your words. If you find yourself in a difficult situation or come across someone whom you just cannot get to do something you want, talk it out with them. We must use words to express our desires, to air our grievances, and most importantly to solve our problems. How can we know what someone else wants without asking? How can we hope to solve a problem without the most basic necessity: understanding the other player?
On the international stage when major players are in the game, using your words becomes less simple and can devolve entirely. But luckily for modern politics in the United States, we have trained diplomats, courtesy of the State Department, whose entire job is to talk on our behalf to other countries. Or at least, this is what they do in theory.
The President of the United States tweeted on October 1, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”
For those of you who don’t know, “Little Rocket Man” is how Donald Trump refers to Kim Jong-Un, the dictator of the reclusive North Korean regime, who has in his hand a nuclear weapon. This statement President Trump makes flies in the face of my mother’s wise words. Without negotiations – diplomacy and conversation – lasting peace becomes harder and harder to achieve. The President just blasted to his 40.1 million followers that he does not care for diplomacy. But here is the kicker—he doesn’t offer an alternative better than Rex Tillerson’s current strategy.
I have a question for you President Trump: if you don’t want Secretary of State Tillerson to talk with the countries with which we don’t agree, what would you like him to do?
Let me lay out an alternative to the diplomacy I was talking about earlier. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States spends $596 billion on its military, the most out of every country in the world. China, who spends the second most, trails behind the United States by $381 billion. Fantastic. Good for us. We have a lot of money to make a lot of firepower that will we probably have to use if people stop talking to each other, if people start thinking diplomacy is not worth the hassle.
We need to engage in talks with people, especially those we do not like or understand. I have laid out a checklist I think is helpful. Step one: invite the opposing party to the table. Step two: make it known that you want to talk. Step three (and I think the most important of all): make it known that you want to listen. Step four: actually get to the table and start talking. A good talker is vital, but a good listener is the essential next step. We can only have productive conversations if the party sitting on the other side of the table feels heard.
What would the world look like without conversations and diplomacy? Would the weapons that come out of that humungous military budget be the only language in which policy makers are fluent? I hope, for my sanity and the world’s safety, that is not the case.