In Hillary Clinton’s last speech as Secretary of State, she commented that the US is supporting growth in developing countries’ economies because “weak states represent some of our most significant threats. We have an interest in strengthening them and building more capable partners that can tackle their own security problems at home and in their neighborhoods.” (min 15:00) In a world as closely interconnected as we have become, are win-win solutions more visible and attainable?
The prior portion of Hillary’s speech outlined the true transformation of the role of Secretary of State and the nature of securing our interests abroad. She compared the changes to the evolution from the architecture of the Parthenon to that of Frank Gehry: Today – many interconnected supports are needed, and the former design of resting on a few pillars (such as relations with a few capitals rather than with the 112 countries Hillary visited during her tenure) is no longer effective. In this new world, access to knowledge is more democratic, more voices count, and the State Department employs people to help internet-poor regions of the earth get better access to the world wide web!
In some ways, the increase in media and technology has not helped our society. The extreme partisanship in Congress can be linked to the ability to find information that backs up any point of view, no matter how extreme. Even average Democrats or Republicans could spend days online in a wash of similar view points before seeing a portal for the merits of the other side. It’s easy to think we have the one and only best solution if a hundred people echo our views – despite the fact that there may be millions who disagree. The views of such active citizens are translated to the inboxes of our Representatives, and hence the dearth of a middle ground in Congress that is as bad as Americans can recall.
This sort of negative impact from the democratization of information is something I hope (and believe) we can learn from and grow out of in time. Meanwhile, the increasingly real and virtually tangible interconnectedness could eventually make the ‘right’ – most beneficial – choices easy to see and easy to act on.
Seeing win-win solutions is something one can actually improve on and get in the practice of doing, in any day and age. It requires being very specific about what the goals of different parties are, and suspending disbelief that positive outcomes are possible. Some of the most effective negotiating strategies are being honest, and giving to the other side what it does not hurt you to give.
I’m pulling for a world where the US chooses to implement fabulous carbon reduction laws because Bangladesh is on the UN Security Council and our political representatives – including but not limited to the Secretary of State – believe that our interests are tied to theirs. Hillary’s comment is a harbinger that such a world is possible.