Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, pepinsky.blogspot.com
December 14, 2010
The death of Richard Holbrook and ensuing media eulogies set me to reflecting on what diplomacy means to me. Holbrook was five years older than I. He became a steadily rising star in the US foreign service when I was in college dreaming of a foreign service career. Richard Holbrook, rest in peace. Your passion for diplomacy has been manifest, and in Dayton, you brought bloodshed to a halt in the former Yugoslavia. Wow!
The eulogies I hear get me back in touch with what the career diplomacy I dreamed of meant to me. I dreamed of going with sweet reason. Now, looking back on language I now use, I believe that I dreamed of gaining empathy in the midst of armed conflict. I have labeled “empathy” the foundation of peacemaking discourse. As I hear Holbrook’s life’s work dissected, I am thinking of a new way of saying what empathy means to me.
It was said of Richard Holbrook that his preeminent interest implied putting pragmatism and compromise ahead of academic moral principles of right and wrong. I share that attitude. For me then, the test of whether I am empathic is how well I convey to the speakers that I have put myself in their places, as in dealing with having a family member killed by a drone-launched missile. Where my country or person is involved, I gauge empathy by how much my reaction to what happens to US/me shows that me behavior, by word or other deed, responds so that I/we respond to those with whom we have issues while suspending retorts. It is not a matter of sympathy, as in “I hear you” or “I feel your pain,” but whether I/we can act as though what others think of us honestly have gotten through to us…as in, I respect your position, I am sorry for any pain I may have caused, do I get it?, what might I do next to reassure you that I am less of a problem for you. Tell me.
In my experience, this is how empathy transforms war/command-and-obedience into building trust, from violence into mutual understanding. Love and peace--hal

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