Mirroring images

Individuals often connect through a unique mix of similarities and differences. We hold a mirror to each other, providing opportunities to better know ourselves, comforting us through common features generating a sense of familiarity. This in turn creates resonance among people and solid partnerships. Differences, on the other hand, may generate a feeling of uneasiness, but also help us decide who we want to be, confronting us on our path by pointing to other possibilities in life which feel less appealing to us. We may not resonate with people with whom we have differences, but we can be drawn to opposites and learn from those differences, ultimately accepting what we do not necessarily understand as enriching nonetheless. We learn about ourselves in contrast, and it is by connecting with others that we have a chance to reflect on where we differ and can add value. We can also be drawn to others, neither through similarities nor differences but rather through admiration, usually realizing—perhaps unconsciously—that the qualities we admire in other we often possess as well. Others act as a mirror, helping us define who we want to become. Through all these connections among people, it is as if we have many different people living inside, expressing themselves with different voices into a unique container. It is difficult to know which voices to pay attention to and which ones to ignore or dismiss to find our unique path. The point is to let them speak and hear them out.

It is not very different in international relations: many voices, one world. The point is to let them speak. Countries will often align themselves with those they feel are closest to their own values. I have worked for an organization of member countries which shared similar values to the point where they would trust their own defense to others. The resonance among these countries has led over time to a powerful partnership. However, the opportunities to learn from differences among nations seem far less prominent, and those partnerships, when they exist despite differences, are very precarious. Differences often breed a sense of insecurity and are rarely sought out or even understood. More often than not they are a cause for conflicts. We tend to criticize the behaviour of nations who dare to be different and reject our set of values. By observing the different behaviour of other countries such as Russia, western powers seem unlikely to be reflecting on their own behaviour by looking at it as in a mirror, thereby learning about their own shortcomings and their own path. In addition, when drawn to another country through admiration, as many have been attracted over the years by what the United States represented in their eyes, few have tried to emulate and define their own path accordingly. People emigrated but few tried to find within their own countries the same potential.

The mirroring images among individuals are yet similar to the effect of mirroring images among countries. Why is it that countries do not reflect on their own shortcomings when they face differences in other countries that make them feel insecure? Why are they prompted to judge and react rather than step back and reflect on their own records? Are differences in our world view from that of neighbouring countries a threat to our own perspectives, or a sign of weakness of our own creative power to inspire the rest of the world? It is, of course, so much easier to lay the blame on others tripping us, than to question our own standing and start by tying our own shoe laces.

Mirror images and self-reflection do not advocate introversion, forgetting about the rest of the world. On the contrary, they keep our gaze on the outside, engaging in international relations, in order to attend to our internal development. It is a different way to look at the world. In the end, we will not change the world if we do not change ourselves. In fact, the world hardly needs changing, but we do. Through all these connections among people, we have different voices in a unique container helping us find our own path. The world is showing us the way to self-development, if we are prepared to look into the mirror rather than at the mirror.

As we look into this mirror, let us give a voice to each and every aspect of our being, allowing them to come into awareness and giving them a chance to speak, to express their perspective, and let us listen without comment. As we listen we may be amazed at the wisdom and energy inhabiting each parcel of ourselves. By bringing each one of them into a closer relationship, we may be propelled into a new way forward, a balancing and unifying whole, fully centred, and yet connected to each and every parcel of our world.

Political science is not a science but an art

I still remember the days in university when I would discuss with other students whether political science was an art or a science. After thirty years in the field of international relations, there is little doubt for me that it is an art. Nonetheless, when you watch the news nowadays, whatever may be the topic under discussion, you are usually provided facts and figures and the views of experts. In fact, so many people can now provide competent, expert views that the news story of what is happening in the world is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. We need the human stories that go with it, and you do not get this from knowledge. The mind is of little help to embrace the world if you do not have a heart.

As I try to write about international relations, I am reminded of the classic French author, Blaise Cendras, who once wrote: “I dip my pen not in ink, but in life.”

Today there are many experts, well-trained professionals and well-crafted students who can talk elegantly and eloquently about international relations. Though craft matters, it is important to remember that craft is but the servant of the soul, and the soul is to be found in the way you perceive the world within and without.

Much as for the artist, the writer, when I look at international relations, I feel subjectivity is important to relate to what is happening in the world. It is a way to connect. William Turner used to say when he was painting: “I am interested in drawing what I see, not what I know.” Like a painter, I had to stand some place in order to put forth my vision and to find my voice. This place was my life – hardly an objective place.

In identifying with the world, one needs to identify with the journey of another human being in its heartfelt originality. As a child, the first I heard of World War II was through my mother. You often read about bartering in war times when there was no more food to buy and no products to find. Bartering is not a word my mother would use. She would talk about neighbours “giving” salt while they would “give” butter. Her perspective certainly has more heart than our history books.

As we listen to or read about international news, let us not miss out on talking to people, listening to their subjective stories and perspectives. This may be the only way to open our hearts and overcome the pervasive indifference around. No amount of facts and figures, no expert is bound to generate the necessary feelings for the audience to identify with the world. Even images nowadays are unlikely to produce the necessary emotional connection for people to care. Irrespective of the right and wrong stories of international relations, it is through a heart-centered presence that we will be able to address the current challenges of our world.