Updated: Apr 17
Information is the tool of a diplomat's trade.
Information is currency.
What diplomat's know is valuable,
for whoever has information has influence and power.
Some people and organisations want to know the information we diplomats have. They want to know what we diplomats do at work. They want to know what we do outside of work, what's going on in our heads and what we're really thinking.
Sometimes, this comes from benign curiosity. Other times, it doesn't.
What's the problem?
We know that a diplomat's words, thoughts and actions carry the weight of our governments. We bear a huge responsibility.
I've written about how we diplomats and those living the diplomatic life are always on; how we never stop being the diplomat or attached to one [go here to read].
I wrote about how we can always be on guard, wary and suspicious whenever someone starts to ask questions about what we're doing at work or what we think about an issue.
Indeed, we must always be on guard, wary and suspicious as we can never be sure of someone's intentions and motivations when engaging with us.
Always on guard: At work; at home; online; in public. Always.
Everything we do can be of interest to someone, somewhere. Let's explore what I mean by 'everything' through some examples beyond the workplace:
- Your answer to 'how was your day, dear?' indicates some frustration with your work, your boss or coworkers? Useful.
- Signs that your drinking habit turning from a social drink to an addiction? Interesting.
- Your 'I can totally stop at any time' use of illegal, recreational drugs? Hmm.
- Your late-night scrolling through your preferred porn site? Oh, this is good.
- Your visits to the local red light district?This is even better.
- Your more-frequent arguments with your significant other or that you haven't had sex for a few months? Trouble in paradise?
- Your harmless flutter on the horses leading you into financial difficulties? Bingo!
What we really think and divergences between our public actions and our private thoughts can be useful to someone, somewhere at sometime.
To those readers who are diplomats and those living the diplomatic life, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
To those readers who aren't diplomats or live the diplomatic life who may be confused, let me ask you this question:
If you knew that what you did in public and in private was of interest to someone for malevolent purposes to be used against you to get to your employer, would you change anything that you do or anything about yourself?
This is what we diplomats must do.
For diplomats and those living the diplomatic life
The omnipresent spectre looming over us can, at times, oscillate between feeling sinister and feeling totally normal, can't it?
I've written before on how shame is a powerful behavioural motivator in humans. Humans can be capable of almost anything to avoid having their shame exposed. Let's think about it for a moment: to what lengths would you go to stop the world finding out your darkest secret? That thing you did, or who you fear you are deep down, and spend so much of your life hiding or running from?
Anything that causes us shame can be used against us. And not just against us personally - it can be used against us to get to our countries.
To counteract this, we tell our employers everything about ourselves. Everything. Few other occupations have to do this. Our vulnerabilities need to be known and addressed. Being vulnerable is never a good thing for diplomats, so we work hard to hide our vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability is something of which I'm keenly aware when I write about the importance of being open and vulnerable to you. There's a real risk to this for diplomats and those living the diplomatic life. I know; I get it. I spent years hiding what I thought were my vulnerabilities. I was scared - no, [insert swear word for emphasis] terrified - that my vulnerabilities would be used against my country.
Our answer is to build and maintain impressive façades of endless competence and effortless confidence to hide our vulnerabilities and our true selves from the world. Behind them we can cower in fear; terrified of being seen and being found out.
We engage with the world through access points that we strictly control and view people approaching and asking questions with suspicion.
Yes, I know that you've asked me what I do for a living and want to know some more details, but why are you REALLY asking?
Nothing and no one can come in or out without us being totally comfortable with it. Needless to say, living life behind these carefully-constructed façades with their controlled access points can be very dangerous to our mental, emotional and physical well-being over time. They can become our prison.
The price of protecting what we hold in our heads on behalf of our countries can be disconnection from ourselves, those around us and where we are. We can, at some point, realise that the world knows the version of us that we've created, and not our authentic selves. We may not even know who we are either; we've become completely lost behind the façade we've created. The path to loneliness and its effects on our mental, emotional and physical health starts here.
Authenticity is a topic to which I'll return in a future blog post.
Further, feeling the omnipresent spectre looming over us can really test our psychological resilience as there can be few opportunities to not have our words, thoughts and actions interpreted while we are on a posting [read more here and here about resilience].
Suffice to say that this is not good. Some may be able to cope and brush the thoughts and feelings that come from living under a microscope away. Others, like me, may know that living under a microscope is the price that we pay for living this diplomatic life but can - at times - struggle to pay the mental and emotional price with our ability to connect with ourselves and the world around us.
The personal stress of having our sources of shame exposed to our own AND to our country's detriment for a job may be our normal, but it is certainly not normal.
What are we to do?
To those diplomats reading this, I say very clearly: we know all of this when we begin our postings. We learn to answer direct questions about ourselves or others indirectly or with an abundance of words that can largely be meaningless to those with whom we're speaking. This can especially be the case when we are being suspicious of the motives behind the questions.
There is an absolute need to be cautious and wary and suspicious. Our security depends on it. Our countries depend on us being all this.
There is no other option. We simply have to be wary and alert.
Rather than casually dismissing this reality and carrying on, we need to recognise that this is not how most people live their lives AND that this may also be extremely damaging to us.
Spend some time thinking about what the need to be vigilant, alert and knowing that what we do, say and think is always of interest to someone, somewhere has affected you.
How does living this diplomatic life and being interesting affect you and how you interact with the world?
Who knows the real you?
Do you even know the real you?
This post covered the central themes of diplomacy, resilience, loneliness and connection.
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and do not reflect any official position. The words published above are intended to support, challenge and inspire diplomats and those living the diplomatic life as they reconnect with themselves and the world around them. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional.