Friday, November 19, 2010

You Think You know, But You Have no Idea: Model UN

 Joseph Nye's soft power can be seen beyond a wide-scale cultural negotiating table, down into a New York hotel meeting room during a National Model United Nations (NMUN) conference. Soft power implies that if a country's culture is well-liked and appreciated by others, that this likability translates to political power.  A nation's trustworthiness and friendship are its most critical tools in international politics, economics, and relations.  My experience in the NMUN conference is a microcosm of this principle in action.  
Students from around the world came to duke it out and take home a little bit of glory.  Certain teams were trained how to win, or, more importantly, how not to lose.  At their command, these officious diplomats had every esoteric rule ready to deploy: roll calls with 200 people, fact checks and date checks – all with the flip of their placards.   To prepare, I went to Macy’s. I told the saleswoman I needed a color that said, “I’m right, co-sign my resolution.”   Ladybug Red became, Sign My Resolution Red.  Other delegates relied less on subtlety; they would rush up to weaker representatives, attack them with questions, accusations and commands, then move on.
“Do you support bilateral efforts to mitigate….?”
“uh, well … Chad believes that its better stick with our regional – “
“- No. That doesn’t work.  You need a … with a … Brazil is making a resolution that would …. You support it? Good. Sign Here.”
Several kids called the conference quits because they couldn’t share any of their opinions and no one listened to them. 
  I looked around the room: crestfallen soldiers sat scattered with index cards full arguments no one would ever hear.  I pulled them together and asked if they would share their ideas with me.  We decided on a scribe, then went around and shared our opinions and perspectives.  In our down time I made sure to share restaurant and shopping tips in the city and swap travel stories. We sat in a circle with the rest of the committee buzzing around behind us.  I figured that if people were going to vote on any resolution I supported, they needed to like me.  Not in a Michael Scott,  I need people to like me, kind of way, but rather in a way that opened them up to share their thoughts with me.  To support my ideas, they needed to trust me. My resolutions developed in depth and practicality with each contribution.  They knew that I cared about their interests and that I considered their opinions in our work.  Credibility and communication are key to soft power.  Sign My Resolution Red became I am Listening Red.
the colloquialism, you win more flies with honey than vinegar summarizes Nye’s concept of soft power.  My strategy worked in the end with all three of our resolutions passing. I received the committee award for diplomacy, which is selected by a peer majority vote. The intimidation tactics of the hard power delegates failed to the soft power of talking and trust. 

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love this! I think a lot of soft power can be done on an individual level as well. There's a group out there called Citizen Diplomats and they advocate sharing similarities and respecting differences while traveling. I went to an international school overseas a few years ago as part of my undergrad and it took a huge effort for us Americans to not be so "American" and a couple of times I'd have to caution younger students against saying the typical "our ____ is better and yours sucks" because they often said it in complete seriousness. There's a huge disconnect with how people around the world view our government and how they view us, and unfortunately in recent years that gap has narrowed, which means we have to work extra hard at doing the things you've suggested here.