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May 11, 2008

The Diplomatic Art Of Listening

Posted in: Foreign policy,Music

In Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, entitled Epigrams and Interludes, contains one of my favorite philosophical musings: "In music, the passions enjoy themselves."

One of my political philosophy professors — who also happened to have helped train and run resistance operations during WWII and afterward — told me once over coffee that one of his greatest means of recruiting an asset was not at the end of gun barrel, by terrifying someone into cooperation, or by some form of bribery. It was opening their mind to the possibility of something better, something more…something new and beyond their previous imagining of their own possibilities, for themselves and, more importantly, for their families. And that the greatest weapon he wielded in doing so, first against the Nazis and then against the spread of communism, was the copies of American jazz recordings that he brought along on his travels.

Music, according to him, is the great communicator of potential change and emotional connection, even when the language and the values among the parties are so seemingly different.

Christiane Amanpour recently reported on a trip made by the New York Philharmonic to North Korea, for performances in Pyongyang. I generally love her reporting because it is so full of nuance and shades of gray, and this report was no exception. What I enjoyed most was the comparisons of the interests and lives of the people on all sides of the dividing lines — and how similar they all seemed at their core, no matter their political or personal persuasions. Some video clips from the documentary are available here, and also here, and they are worth a watch.

What will come of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea? No idea.

But it certainly is an intriguing notion in the context of my discussions with my now-deceased professor. Diplomacy is the art of opening understanding, of paving the way for further discussion by finding some common ground on which to stand…and making friends out of long-standing enemies for each side’s mutual benefit. Given the current leadership in North Korea and the United States, immediate change is not likely — but over the long term? Who knows what person sitting in the audience listening to the music might lead the thaw in frosty relations, and to a mutually beneficial relationship in our years ahead — one leading to more safety, prosperity, and peace for all concerned.

What better way to pave an opening of the heart and mind than through music. Bravo.

(YouTube clip from CNN of an intro teaser for the longer documentary report from Christiane Amanpour.)



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