Friday, March 2, 2018

With Your Own Eyes

I was recently in Italy and the entire time I was there I wanted to shout at everyone I saw, “Put down your phone!” Does nobody experience anything live anymore?

I was in St. Peter’s Basilica paying my respects to Michelangelo’s Pieta, one of the most stunning works of art I have ever seen. A man holding up a smart phone in front of his face squeezed in next to me to get a photo, then turned his back to the statue to get a selfie. Then he walked away! Without LOOKING at this magnificent creation directly with his own eyes. If all you want is a good picture, pick up a post card in the gift shop.

I deliberately left my camera in my hotel room when I went to St. Peter’s. I wanted to SEE and EXPERIENCE and REMEMBER everything first hand without the distraction of obligation to “get a good shot” that having a camera around my neck forces upon me. Don’t get me wrong, I like taking pictures of cool things, but sometimes it’s more important to authentically experience a moment than to capture it.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Soft Power to Achieve Hard Goals

I'm often called upon to brief distinguished visitors to Lithuania about the embassy's public diplomacy activities. The DVs range from senators, congressional staffers, generals, and assistant secretaries. My spiel usually goes like this (modified for online consumption, of course):

Lithuania is a strong partner and ally of the United States and public opinion toward the U.S. and Western institutions is generally high. However, Lithuania is a frequent target of propaganda, disinformation, and cyber attacks, which seek to undermine Lithuania's faith in its own government, in its relationship with the U.S. and Europe, in NATO, and in democracy itself.

Certain populations are vulnerable to continuous exposure to these narratives. The Embassy engages with these communities through a variety of programs in order to blunt anti-U.S. narratives and present alternatives. Our sustained and varied programing with target communities has resulted in increased direct interaction with a population that had little previous exposure to Americans, positive local press coverage, stronger relationships with local contacts, and a better understanding of the issues these communities face.

One free jazz concert won't make a lasting impact. Continuous engagement with a community across a spectrum of public diplomacy activities - cultural performances, art exhibits, sports activities, exchange programs, English teaching, school presentations, film festivals, science & tech camps, U.S. speakers, social media - is how an embassy develops a relationship with the public.

I know I can't go tweet-for-tweet against those who try to malign the U.S. in the Baltic States. But what I can do is make sure those anti-U.S. narratives don't take hold.