Coneflower

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Tuesday's storm stopped shy of the Sagamore Bridge. It barked twice scaring away the electricity for a few hours but the rain never came on Cape.  Now, I water and appreciate the humble coneflower partnered with montbretia in mid-July's dry garden. For the more erudite, these lovelies are Echinecea & Cocosmia. The Goldfinch do not love them more by their Greek names, neither do I.

Another avid gardener George Orwell (1946), calling for plain speech in his essay "Politics and the English Language," thought the humble snapdragon preferrable to antirrhinum and the lowly forget-me-not much better than the inflated myosotis. Orwell campaigned against pompous, ugly language:

As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

Orwell finds both that language suffers when the general political atmosphere is bad and that corrupted language contributes to a poor political atmosphere. 

A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.

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So, when a few quiet souls in the public diplomacy community intentionally strip away the theoretical curliques embroidered on common terms over the past decade to speak plainly about our shared focus, my first response is "Orwell, be praised!" There is beauty in plain speaking. It is as welcome as the rain in my July garden. 

Amy Zalman's article, How Power Really Works in the 21st Century: Beyond Soft, Hard & Smart, published by the Globalist online on July 17, 2012, went quickly viral. Tweeted by many, emailed my others and the subject of a blog post by mutual Public Diplomacy Council  colleague Brian Carlson, Amy's article seemed to quench a thirst.  In response, she earned an acknowledgement/dismissal from @Joe_Nye himself:

Sigh. So, life is a fountain? Wouldn't it be a lot more fun if the story ended like this:

Amy isn't seeking the meaning of power, she operating in the world where she is trying to get something done.  When the focus is on doing it, rather than theorizing about it, you tend to get practical as any gardener knows. The frustration I read in her lament lies in the translation of the hyphenated power concepts into the oranizational ways of doing by those who actually conduct foreign policy. The key point in Amy's article is:

To address the hard problems that confront us globally, we should resist the temptation to put exercises of power into any pre-labeled boxes. Before asking what to call them, we should figure out what they can achieve — and under what circumstances.

These pre-labled conceptual boxes become organizational charts in no time at all and bind the exercise of power by tendrils rooted in turf. Bureaucratic turf matters profoundly in the actual conduct of foreign affairs as anyone who has done it knows. And, at the core of the organizations engaged is a conception of the international environment. 

Robin Brown, a second quiet soul in the PD community begins there to build a framework for comparative government external communications research. In a paper, The Four Paradigms of Public Diplomacy,  presented to the International Studies Association Convention in April 2012, the British scholar offers a jargon free framework for examining how countries actually communicate abroad. Robin assumes that the communication is purposeful and that over time national approaches have solidified organizationally. 

Uncomfortable with the term public diplomacy because of its accretions in meaning and association with soft power [distinguished from the term strategic communication associated with hard power] he defines PD's purpose simply as,

He posits that there are four recurring sets of ideas about the nature and purpose of this activity evident in the external communication approaches taken by nation states:                 

The value of this approach is that it is clarifying. While I have some differences in interpretation  on the American experience based on my own service, I learned from Robin's insights and look forward to the book he promises. I  do agree that the cultural context matters. The political culture of the state drives how it sees the international environment and what and how it communicates externally. Robin makes that quite clear as he unpacks the four national approaches in his case studies. Carrying the comparison beyond Western nations will deepen the insight.

These two voices helped wash my brain of stale thinking this week. They've shown we can lose the humbug with effort. To help clear the fog as George Orwell (1946) wrote and Miss Sabai would agree, repeat after me:

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Except where otherwise noted, all original work produced by Donna Oglesby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License