The International Echo Chamber

Talyn Rahman-Figueroa, CEO of Grassroot Diplomat, opens the window on the lack of intelligent diversity in diplomacy. See what she means in her latest Founder's Blog.

Photo Credit: Wil Stewart

Photo Credit: Wil Stewart

Lately, I found myself thinking a lot about diversity. I don’t just mean diversity on race, gender or ethnic coexistence. I mean intellectual diversity where differing points of view and ideas can be discussed. This train of thought was sparked by a lunch I had with an upcoming politician who I have acquainted for a number of years. We talked about diversity, multiculturalism and a sense of belonging as two ethnic minority Brits with big ideas and even bigger dreams. Except, I vehemently disagreed with his points of views and wondered why I agreed to meet with him in the first place. 

I was withdrawing dangerously within my own mind until he shared a story about a talk he was invited to which opened my view about him. In his North London talk, he asked a group of Sudanese if they would ever consider a Christian candidate as their Head of State. They looked at each other and laughed, responding that as a Muslim-majority country, they will never accept a non-Muslim as their leader. In the same vein, South Africans noted that electing a white South African President would set their country back in its history. He explained how the people’s interests was biased to a status quo that helped them feel secure about their own identities which worked against the current view of Grassroot Diplomat. The people’s interest is dependent upon the collective view of groups that help form specific identities. He made me think and helped me look at things from another perspective which made me feel both uncomfortable and challenged.

In our tech age, the internet has made it easier for us to find others who already share our opinions. As a result, we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people that has only led to a greater divide. We are all searching for a sense of belonging which is not only a desire but one of our primary needs. We avoid uncomfortable opinions and facts and we do it to maintain a sense of camaraderie and shared reality with our own thinking. Our brains are more interested in protecting our sense of self, identity and belonging than finding out the truth. But democracies that work well make space for disagreement such as this. 

How we engaged over lunch is the kind of ‘safe space’ I want to create for my diplomatic peers in embassy missions. By getting together individuals from all walks of life, we are able to plan engagements, strategies, communications that consider a larger community. This level of intelligent diversity is missing in modern diplomacy, particularly around the round table where discussions are only echoed. That is why I created the public diplomacy arm of Grassroot Diplomat so many years ago.     

You can disagree with somebody in the strongest terms, believing your opponents to be profoundly or even dangerously mistaken. But that doesn't oblige you to ignore them, scorn them, or pity them. Deeming someone’s opinions illegitimate should be a last resort, not a first resort. Refusing to engage, except to mock and condescend, is tactically counterproductive. 

So rather than learning what not to say, learn to say things without dismissing the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others. Our critical thinking and reasoning skills needs to evolve so that we are able to better cooperate in groups that do not belong in an echo chamber. Understanding their points of view in an intelligent manner can open up bigger opportunities in the future, if only we learned to observe, listen and understand how their views are formed. 

Don’t dismiss. Just respect. And if you can’t accept, just agree to disagree as diplomats have mastered ever so skilfully.

Serving you with light and hope.

Talyn Rahman-Figueroa
CEO, Grassroot Diplomat