Diplomacy – Not Just Any Ol’ Game

(This is an updated posting from several years ago. It is written as I think about how divided our country is, and maybe always has been.)

It’s Amazing where conversations can lead you…

Diplomacy Board Game BoxIf you are searching, bouncing ideas off of someone else can clarify your position.

If you are our attempting to affirm or rebuild your foundation, then honest dialogue can show you gaps or even shore up your belief.

Even casually, conversation can help you understand where someone else stands.

Solomon writes a verse I have used often when I think about how we need each other to sharpen our views of our conversation.

As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. (Proverbs 27:17 NKJV)

Rather than confusing, I find that conversation carried out over a period of time often brings clarity. You need a bookmark to hold your place else you easily forget what ground you have already covered.

Back in 2014, my son and I had breakfast. While passing through our neck of the woods he had time so we met at the local Hawks Prairie Inn. Good time of conversing about his trip, family, events, and finally he got around to something he had listened to on the way north this morning.

If you have never listened to “This American Life” then you are missing a treat. These are stories about life in America, retold in a cross between narrative, storytelling and interviews. Some are fun, others are poignant. Some cause a reality check, and others make you proud to be an American. Check them out sometime at www.thisamericanlife.org. They are often found on local PBS stations, and in iTunes.

There was a time that I experienced something similar to a particular episode on This American Life. Before I give you more information, let me share my story. It was 1980… November… You do the math. Yes. A story nestled between the ages of my son and my daughter! Old, true, but still a good story.

National Bank of Alaska hired me from Texas and paid my relocation to Anchorage, AK, in 1980. I had been with Gray Tool Company for 4 years and had migrated from a computer operator, to programmer, and back to supervising the mainframe computer staff. During a major conversion I had been asked to not leave until the conversion was completed. Namely, do not migrate to Alaska. The company knew my interest as I had moved my parents there (5,000 miles by auto) in 1977, and flew my first commercial flight home. We then vacationed there as a young family with my son who took his first steps at the grandparents apartment on Wisconsin Street. That was 1979. Well, one day out of the blue I get a call from a headhunter. A job placement agency. They had my resume from the previous year and were located in Arizona. “How did you get my resume?”… Come to find out, back then, once your resume is mailed to companies looking for a job then many of them simply are forwarded it to an agency, and there is no telling how many places my resume ended up at.

So, a hiring manager flew to Houston, interviewed me at a hotel near Intercontinental Airport (now Bush), and then a week later called with an offer package that include relocation!

MV Matanuska Alaska FerryThe move itself is a fun story for another time. But we drove from Houston to Seattle, caught the Alaska Ferry Matanuska. Drove from Haines, AK, through BC, Yukon, and back into Alaska. A 700 mile road trip at about 40 below zero… Yes… -40 degrees.

The first day on the job I was treated to a nice lunch at Clinkerdagger Bickerstaff and Petts. It’s gone now, but a nice restaurant with some really good “Burnt Creme” dessert. The next day, I am told, is a day they would normally bring in their lunches and play a game of Diplomacy, a World War I board game. “Do you want to play?” Sure, I’ll try. It is a game where the countries of Europe are divided among the players and time is given to all to try and form alliances and battle plans for the coming season. You make plans with another country to overrun a different country, shore up defenses, or try to confuse other players with some movements that leave them guessing what your real intentions might be next season. Each of you write out your own troop movement orders and then they are read by a game master and the game pieces that represent your armies, navies, and other pieces are then moved around the board.

What you diplomatically hope for is that your troop movement matches the plan you set in place with another country.

Europe at WWI
Europe at WWI

What you are aiming for is domination.

What normally happens is annihilation! At least in my case.

What I learned is that my boss cannot be trusted, and my team mates are trying to stab me in the back and overrun my country!

At the end of the first season of troop movements, I have nothing left. My armies and navies have been obliterated, and my country is overwhelmed by my friends, who are now my enemies.

John, Al, Rick, Mike… I remember your names! “Not fun!” says I. They all laugh at my calamity and continue playing to the completion of the lunch hour.  I never played that game again!

But it makes for a good story!

I learned something from this game – I would never be a diplomat, nor a politician! I don’t have the stomach for it, nor do I like the way I felt when everyone turned on me. Essentially, I want to be a person of my word. Life is not full of people who have your best interest in mind. Many are into relationships only for what they get out of it for themselves.

There are few people to trust your life with!

Key words in life revolve around core principles of how we conduct our lives – with each other, strangers, and even ourselves. Trust. Principled. Faithful, Kind. Caring. Concerned. Along with many others that you use and would easily prescribe for others as well. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, an American Proverb that tells me you cannot live or expect one thing from someone else, and a different standard for yourself.

In real life a Diplomat works with best intentions to settle disputes and negotiate matters on behalf of the countries they each come from. Probably. Yet, it seems like the job of a Diplomat often calls for the ability to get what’s best for his or her own country, often at the cost of another Diplomats expense. Diplomacy might be a board game that you play with friends and enemies, but you must be ready to let your true nature shine, as well as the other persons falter.

If you do listen to This American Life (Click Here), check out episode 531, “Got Your Back”. It has some foul language. They are looking for some feedback whether they should continue to bleep their stories and this is one they chose not to bleep as a test… But the story is about a man who gets so involved with the game of Diplomacy and he finds he is not good at the effort. Things backfire on him.

According to the summation of the broadcast… You must be cutthroat to be a diplomat…

There are some situations where Diplomacy will never work for you. Diplomacy does not work with the devil. You cannot make a deal with the devil as Faust tried in German legend, get all you can out of life – knowledge, riches, fame, but in the end the Devil gets your soul. Diplomacy may work with friends and family as you attempt to better your situation and you may require the assistance of others. But you must learn that true Diplomacy is a game of give and take, maintaining the self esteem of another, and never becoming the bully on the street corner.

I wonder, was Jesus a Diplomat? Can a Diplomat trade his life for his friends? This is the greatest sacrifice (John 15:13), and Jesus had just called his followers his friends. In fact, scripture speaks deeply of the things we do with our friends.  Again, Solomon writes in Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” This does not mean you fight with your brother, rather, it speaks that in the midst of adversity you need a brother on your side. It may mean that it’s your loving friend, but more than likely the brother is simply those you are aligned with. Perhaps even someone you do not know.

A final thought. If you do not have guiding principles in your life then you will be subject to every whim of life that passes you by. You need to find some backbone and define what you believe, and stand up for it even when others change their principle. Rules of life may change, but the principles behind them never should. Principles are often rooted in rules of life that produce positive results…

Something to think about.

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