In my case, traveling has transformed from purely cultural, often leisure experience to much broader search for knowledge and interesting lectures that I cannot find at home. During my recent stay in Zurich, Switzerland, I had an opportunity to attend an excellent talk on the challenges to global diplomacy organized as part of Global Negotiation Conference 2018. It was held by Baroness Catherine Ashton at one of the best universities in Europe - ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).
A few words about Baroness Catherine Ashton. She is a former Vice President of the European Commission and former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. She is also the first woman to be appointed a British European Commissioner. Best known particularly for her role in bringing Serbia and Kosovo to an agreement in 2013, the list of her achievements can go and on and on. She is a truly amazing and inspiring lady, and today I would like to focus on some of the main points that she brought during the Global Negotiation Conference in Zurich.
Starting from Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, to Iran, Middle East and finally reaching further to Venezuela, Brazil, East Asia, Rohingya and North Korea, there are so many crisis in our modern world that it is virtually impossible to focus on one problem, as we try to find solutions to many. Before getting to the main challenges to global diplomacy that Catherine talked about, it is important to discuss the role of media in modern conflicts. Without a doubt, we live in a truly digital world. We know about key events, the moment problems have erupted. We not only follow the stories, like in the case of Thailand cave rescue. We demand action. Whether it is for satisfying our curiosity, a little bit like waiting for the next episode of your favorite series, or by a genuine care, we want to see things happening right now regardless if it is beneficial for the course of action taken by groups working to resolve a conflict.
Diplomacy finds itself on the the other side of the spectrum. It usually happens under the radar, quietly and gradually. In times when all we want is transparency in every area of life, we need to understand that sometimes behind closed doors means opening the new ones. Again, where there is a demand for media presence, the media companies will certainly supply it. Sometimes it occurs in the process of negotiations, which have not yet been finalized. Often driven by our own interest, we need to get smarter about diplomacy. Catherine mentions five main challenges to global diplomacy that she thinks are vital for its ultimate success.
Collaboration. In the interview that Catherine gave in 2013 during Brussels Forum, she said that Europe was doing really well on economic issues by using its self-power and working collaboratively. She also suggested that this system could be applied on a global scale in foreign policy to tackle major issues. In Zurich she repeated that point in the context of diplomacy and how effective collaboration and partnership drive the best results. The goal is to bring leaders from across the sectors and disciplines to engage in a problem and give a light to many issues it can comprise of.
Comprehensive Approach. During the 22 years of civil war in Somalia, one of the problems that hindered its solution was the piracy off the coast of Somalia. Intervention groups needed to tackle it simultaneously to get to the core of a national problem. The issue of piracy also hindered the education development for children and it is when the slogan 'Give up guns and go to school' was created. This example shows us that we should never look at a problem in isolation. Analyzing other flashpoints in the country of concern, show us real causes of the conflict, like chronic unemployment and lack of prospects for youth.
Economics meets Politics. Taking as an example Arab Spring in Tunisia and the different phases of the political transition - from the demanded departure of President Ben Ali, to a reduction of women's rights, to finally building foundations of a sustainable democratic and inclusive political system, the country's political instability went hand in hand with a serious economic drop. Catherine pointed out that in resolving that conflict, it was equally important to bring business leaders that would help to identify investment opportunities and build systems that would lift the economy and help it to recover after major political crisis.
Patience. Patience is of crucial importance in diplomacy. In the process of negotiations, all sort of things can happen before they are finalized. Starting from a disruption of other conflicts that can take the attention away from the main problem, to media interruptions, to finally external factors that can impact adversely leaders' decision to cooperate, we cannot take things for granted before the agreement has not been reached. Another thing is what Catherine call sdrip-drip of diplomacy. With the issues so fragile, the process is likely to be the long-haul, even though the time is short.
Trust. Trust is a fundamental value in all areas of life but comes fore in the international relations handled at the most critical level. Different theories like realism, rationalism and constructivism perceive trust differently but what is really important, especially in diplomacy, is that it is simply about being honest, and not about getting what you want. Both of the parties engaged in negotiations need to be aware and likewise, sure about that.
Diplomacy is based on trust and collaboration. Collaboration builds a basis for a more comprehensive approach, including detailed analysis of crisis running alongside the main conflict and bringing leaders across the sectors and disciplines to tackle them. Business leaders and economists are part of this equation. When talking about challenges to diplomacy, we also need to take into consideration cultural norms and social attitudes. Very often seeing two opposing leaders sitting in one room is perceived as a betrayal and encourages distrust in the society. This, in turn, can lead to internal riots and therefore disruption of minor crisis that I mentioned before. The cycle is hard to stop. Finding itself in the media spotlight, it is even harder to continue with negotiations at a pace, that it requires. Problems which are complex are often made simplistic by the media and so are the endeavors of diplomacy. I hope that by reading this brief summary you have a better idea of what diplomacy is really about and what challenges does it face in the light of our changing society.
I was siting on the bed in my teenage room, leaning against the wall and studying something for school when my mother walked in and said 'Uncle is dead'. I remember her eyes wide open but I am not sure what I saw in them, was it sadness or confusion? My uncle has crashed into a tree in the car accident that was ruled as a probable suicide. I was too little to embrace it, neither could I understand my family's approach towards his death. I knew he had troubled life but I see now, I knew very little. Ever since however I grew up in the judgement of his life.
Suicide is not a new social phenomenon. Starting as early as 19th century with the death of Vincent Van Gogh, we could observe the snowball effect taking its toll throughout 20th (Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain) and carrying on to our times. The suicide of Robin Williams was a huge story a few year back. Since then we added a few names to the list such as Alexander McQueen, Chester Bennington and most recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain just to name the few. Together they add up to 800 000 people that die due to suicide every single year. The problem is real. And it deserves our undivided attention.
So why do people commit suicide? Could this question be ever answered? Trauma, social isolation, chronic pain, terminal illness, substance abuse are some of the possibilities, the most common cause however is that of mental disorder. My cousin was recently hosting a presentation at University of Gdansk regarding various forms of depression. I learned from it that depression is classified under mood (affective) disorders which symptoms occur periodically. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (link here) describes it in terms of episodes varying in duration and intensity. The careful analysis of the above helps us to distinguish depression as a mental condition from sadness. There are some obvious differences but one - attention - pretty much sums it up. People who are sad usually tend to get better once we shift their attention from the unpleasant experience or negative thoughts to something else. A depressed person cannot be comforted without professional help as comforting attempts sometimes even end up in the worsening of condition (sense of misunderstanding).
There is of course a biological explanation for the cause of depression. It concerns dysfunctional neurotransmission of serotonin and noradrenalin caused by the abnormal activity of prefrontal cortex in our brain which distributes these chemicals and largely affects our mood. It is strictly related to the reward system responsible for desire, positive emotions, pleasure etc. The psychodynamic approach however, led by Freud, says that a depression is a result of our aggression being turned inward which in time may lead to very low self-esteem, self-blame or even suicide.
People who display suicidal ideation, thoughts or behavior usually:
We know that there is approximately 800,000 people drying from suicide every single year. The quality and availability of data however is still relatively poor. It is partially due to a stigma surrounding mental disorders and suicide in particular. The decision to commit a suicide is often impulsive, a flash flood of overwhelming emotions strongly linked to the feeling of hopelessness. It happens in the moments of crisis or breakdown leaving others with many unanswered questions. There is no room for an objective assessment of prons and cons (besides, can we even talk about objectivity here?). Contrary to what you may think, people who commit suicide by large lead more-than-average lives with the suicide rates high in middle-income countries along those with much lower standard of living. Can it be therefore concluded that we are simply SPOILED? That we create problems, that we are ungrateful? Of course not. We cannot judge only the outcomes, we must see the bigger picture of where we as the society stand and what it means to live in a given society nowadays.
In our fast-paced world it is extremely easy to miss someone's real call for help. I have good friends whom I talk to every 2 or 3 weeks. To observe suicidal behavior we need time. We need consistency. To recognize certain pattern, to notice the difference. The truth is most of us are not able to do that. It is also hard because the struggle is often inside of our heads and behind closed doors. But suicides ARE preventable. On the side bar to the right I listed some of the measures that we can take both, as a society and individually, to help relieve the global burden of suicides. They key however is, as always, to start really caring.
Everyday we are exposed to extreme social pressure and expectations of others. It does not mean you are weak if you fall for it. Most of us disagree with certain social behaviors or patterns but still feel the effect of not conforming to it on themselves. It is normal. The clue is to trust your instincts, believe in what you are doing and to accept that everybody has different path. If you stay true to your values, the world cannot harm you. Sometimes I feel, especially with women, that there is so much pressure not only to achieve things in general. No. They must be GREAT things. EXTRAORDINARY things. Ordinary is just too lame. Sometimes we do things in good faith, like calling for gender equality in developed countries and empowering women to become more visible, successful in many areas of life, not only at home with children. Ironically this also is a pressure. What about if, in that case, a woman truly fulfills herself with her family only. Is it always about an unlocked potential or maybe we are trying to dictate the worth of their choices? There is a very thin line between showing the way and expecting others to follow it not really leaving them much of a choice or even condemning for the choices they haven't made.
For me social pressure, expectations and the judgement of one's choices lie at the foundation of not only a suicidal problem but the level of unhappiness in the world. What do you think is the main reason for people to fall into depression or even take their own lives?