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.