Saturday, April 10, 2010

The 3Ds, challenges in language and culture

Dear All,

Hope this finds you well, sorry for the delay in posting--its been a busy month or two. I'm headed to the Niger Delta in May to do a six-month consultancy and I've been accepted in the 'pre-employment phase' at USAID to be a 'crisis, stabilization and governance officer', which means i don't have a job, but I do have paperwork. :) More on that later.

The 3 Ds (Diplomacy, Defense and Development)

At first, i thought it was just my mother. That my mother and I couldn't communicate about my newfound understanding of war and how that impacted my wish to work and create value within the security world. After 2+ years of back and forth, we've managed to communicate with each other and she is supportive of my goals and context (she always was, in a sense, but associated security with guns and death, not the ability to protect and transform).

Now, what about with everyone else?

I find myself struggling with a new identity

I am not a classic security person, but i have learned a new language and have trouble going back to who I was before. I need to find new ways to communicate with the people who resemble who I was, while appreciating their perspective.

How should I start? Should I start with an agreement on terms? Perspective?

I've been trying to find a place in the development world that can utilize my new security perspective, my diplomatic upbringing and my desire to create long-term, effective improvements in the lives of humanity.

However, when I found myself in an job interview for a position that I thought epitomized this (a development job in Afghanistan), I found myself repeatedly making a cultural mistake: I assumed we were speaking the same language.

I asked a seemingly innocent question: So, what is your security perspective for your work in Afghanistan?
A: Well, we have a security team that makes sure we stay alive...they're very good.

I tried, no, how does the context the context of war affect your work?

A: Well, we try to stay away from the more volatile areas and conduct risk analysis, etc.

This was not the answer I was looking for--I wanted to know, how does the context affect your work? What about the trauma of the population with whom you are working? What about the trust and legitimacy issues?

Frustrated, I finally tried a direct approach, even though I was beginning to realize that I was just not speaking the same language...

I asked: But you're in a counter-insurgency, you have funding because development work is part of the war effort, how is that not part of your planning?

You could have heard a pin drop, they looked like I had slapped them. THEM, part of the WAR? Never!

One tried to argue with me and it was clear the others were angry..."But, we're doing the hearts and minds stuff...long term goals'...'we don't get funding from DOD'....'We don't deal with guns'

It was clear that one, they didn't realize that 'winning hearts and minds' IS a military strategy, and that COIN is political, more than about guns.

So, what am I to do? How do I use the things I've learned to work with the people who do the work I want to do, without upsetting them (but using the things I've learned to bridge this gap in communication?).

I'm open to your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. You are right on the money. It looks like Patreaus' appointment will probably make this linkage tighter and more explicit. In some ways I am surprised that they did not get the linkage, and in some ways I am not surprised. Having people in the organization who acknowledge the linkage and yet do not emphasize it to the indigenous players is probably necessary for success.