Meeting PhD Students at the Laundrymat Doing Public Diplomacy Work

Ladies and gentlemen I introduce to you: randomness at work.

Sitting at the laundrymat in Dresden, Germany waiting for my clothes to be washed. Reading. Two young Americans walk in and begin to try to understand the German instructions for the washing machines. Confusion. Frustration. Since a German lady had just helped me, I felt obligated to extend the help to others, especially fellow Americans. I watched them struggle for a couple minutes, then called out, "You guys need some help?" A huge sigh of relief comes across their faces at the realization: a native speaker is in their presence!

We start talking and I learn they’re PhD students at the University of Southern California. They’re doing some fascinating work at USC’s new Center on Public Diplomacy and are here in Dresden for a conference. They’re traveling around Europe on grants and research money interviewing folks about the Danish cartoon scandal, presenting papers on wireless communication in Zimbabwe, and generally having a good time. It’s all really important work. I told them I want to contribute to a larger cause which targets: a) the Arab world around values of freedom and democracy, and b) China around values of free speech. I especially want to hit youth using technology.

If you’re interested in the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, check out their web site which is complete with a blog and RSS feeds. Here’s their definition of public diplomacy — every U.S. citizen can do his/her part (especially when Europeans surveyed think the U.S. is a greater threat to global security than Iran):

The USC Center on Public Diplomacy defines public diplomacy as "focusing on the ways in which a country (or multi-lateral organization such as the United Nations) communicates with citizens in other countries." Going a step further is the US Advisory Group on  Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, which  calls public diplomacy outright "promotion of the national interest."

But public diplomacy has been found to be most effective, not by radiating messages to the masses by TV satellites, but through credible interlocutors who are locally regarded with great esteem, and whose views and opinions are accepted by the masses. As Sir James Fitzjames Stephen remarked in 1873, "The way in which the man of genius rules is by persuading an efficient minority to coerce an indifferent and self-indulgent majority."

Thank you God of Randomness!

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