When I wrote about the WikiLeaks case developing, I initially stated that the whole thing made me uncomfortable, yet I couldn’t exactly explain why. I’ve given it some thought, and I now have more of an explanation as to why it hasn’t sat well with me. For one thing, it has suddenly taken the word “diplomat” from respectable to dirty. Diplomacy is a career that I’m interested in pursuing, and now it feels like telling people that I’m applying for a job directly with the CIA. There’s a hint of suspicion now.
My friends and I who have spent years abroad volunteering, working, or even just traveling have done so for various reasons. Some do it for teaching experience, some to kill time in an attempt to figure out what they really want to do, and others for more international experience. But either way, the reasons are often perhaps naively idealistic, in that you can do something to help change the world and be a part of something good and to give back. That’s something I like to think about as I get involved with the locals, live with host families, and struggle so intensively to break into circles. It’s not just for my own benefit, but for theirs as well. So we can all come together on something.
There’s often a lot of mistrust upon meeting a foreigner, especially one from the United States. Many don’t want to know us or get to close, and a history of misconduct on our behalf by our elders has given good reason for locals to avoid us. But we want to change that, and so we work at it and work at it, and if we’re lucky, the barriers are broken down and we can prove that we’re not all big bad monsters, and that all humans share similar bonds. The leaks seem to throw all that work away, as if to say, “Ha! Told you they were just spying on your for their own gains!”
I knew a Peace Corps guy in Ecuador who told me that in his village people would sometimes ask if he worked for the CIA, and just to mess around he would say yes. They would look suspicious and taken aback, then leave. I could never understand why he would do that. First of all, admitting that you’re a spy is hardly going to win you friends, and secondly, the goal of the Peace Corps is to show that American visitors aren’t there for their own interests.
Thinking of my own work on volunteering and trying to make friends and show that I’m not a big, bad American they might have seen on TV, I think that my work has been wasted before my very eyes. I got to a point where some friends would talk about what the U.S. does or the typical obnoxious American, but then get the (but not you, clause), meaning that even though they didn’t want to say it outright, they could no longer say all Americans or “everyone“. The myth was busted because they could see that people are different all over the world and similar as well. Now however, it’s like “you see what I mean, there they go again.”
All I can do as a result of this case is continue to try to debunk the stereotypes and again hope that diplomacy recovers from the hit it has taken. It’s a complex and fascinating world that stretches beyond knowing language and well into things like literary references and dinner traditions. It can hardly be based on a few correspondences.