Anna Peter and Muqaddasa Wahid (SLMUN 2017 News and Media)
This discussion was held on the 14th of August 2017 at the Royal College Skills Union. Mr. George Cooke who has considerable experience in the field of International Relations, conducted a session on diplomacy for the members of the Executive Committee of SLMUN 2017. He began by giving a brief introduction to what diplomacy is, what it entails and what it is like to be a diplomat and expressly stated the difference between what people imagine it to be and what it really is. He also discussed the necessity of the United Nations and the importance of the involvement of the youth in the country.
As he wanted this to be a discussion involving his audience, he opened it out for questions. There were numerous questions, to which he gave a response to and additionally the ExCo themselves discussed the issues that were raised. Mr.Cooke suggested that the chairs focus on formulating a document that would include all the feasible ideas discussed and then discuss the matter in depth. He also advised the chairs on how they can encourage diplomacy among the delegates. In response to the final question, on what would be required to enter the field of international relations and diplomacy, Mr. Cooke stated that a person needs to be well read, passionate and have respect.
It was a very engaging discussion that dealt with pertinent issues and was beneficial to all the ExCo members present for it.
Q&A Session with Mr. Cooke
Chamath Kalupahana: “Is there anything from your experience you can tell us? A piece of advice?”
Mr. Cooke: “Try to be a jack of all trades, try to have expertise. I remember I had a rigorous interview at the very beginning of my career. Through that interview I realized, the role of a Sri Lankan diplomat is to promote the Sri Lankan identity. In the interview, they asked me what languages I spoke and I said English and Sinhalese (at that time, I didn’t know French!) I remember, I went into an ACed room for the interview. A flamboyant panel was present. The panel consisted of Senior Bureaucrats, the Acting Foreign Secretary at the time and a few others of high stature.
During the interview they asked me a few questions which was asked to test how flustered I would get. It is very imperative as a diplomat to be very calm, and not get flustered easily.
As I said before, promoting your national identity is the role of a diplomat. Promoting the national identity can be done in so many ways. Also, following proper etiquette is absolutely necessary. Coming back to promoting your national identity, you can promote it through the food you serve to visitors. As Sri Lankans, we have a diverse culture and a diverse heritage. We have different food specific to different areas and ethnicities in Sri Lanka- on our table, if we have food that bring outs the cultural diversity and heritage- there you go, you have tangible heritage!
Festivals like Vesak can be used as a platform for inter faith dialogue and it is very important we promote inter faith dialogues as we need to overcome extremism and polarization in today’s society.
I have to tell you one thing, put Sri Lanka first, other countries are well prepared. When you go to the international forum, use your mother tongue to speak. Promote your culture. Other countries promote their culture too. As a Sri Lankan you have to stand up for your country because only you will be able to do so. Be passionate about your heritage and culture. Aim to do something to improve the image of your country.”
Dimitra Perera: “What can we get out of Diplomacy?”
Mr. Cooke: “ So many professionals study International Relations, it has now become a subject that is not just limited to one profession or to aspiring diplomats- it has become a subject that is very much important in today’s world. Diplomacy teaches us to respect each other. It is not a case of tolerance, tolerance has a very negative connotation. Diplomacy brings out in us, the need to respect.
In life, it is very important. Though we do have freedom of expression, you can’t just express your opinions. You have to be very thoughtful. There’s a certain way to speak, to start the process, to approach the issue.
Diplomacy also teaches you dignity and decorum. It shapes lives. That’s why diplomacy plays such a big role in life.”
Chamath Kalupahana: “Have we failed to promote our National Identity? We identify ourselves as Sinhalese, Buddhist etc than a Sri Lankan. What can we do to promote our national identity?”
Mr. Cooke: “No we haven’t failed. We have to work more on it. We have to create awareness among our own people. Something that goes with our religious and cultural understanding is respect. We have to learn, respect, discover and appreciated other cultures and religions.
The many problems that have cropped up today is due to the lack of awareness amongst different communities. Different people are involved in different vocations. We know nothing about social integration, we have to move on from history. We cannot keep harping on it, leave the past in the past- learn lessons and move forward. The lack of awareness of different cultures plays a critical factor in social disintegration. We have to be aware, promote awareness and encourage social integration.”
Venuri Kalinga: “Our generation is more open to discussion. Our ExCo is very diverse. Openness comes from generations. We make progress in Equality. The youth is more open to solutions, discussions and change. They are willing to change. With proper awareness and proper dialogue amongst the youth; social integration is possible.”
Mr. Cooke: “Never ever must we try to impose. Freedom of expression, thought or speech- we have to know how to self regulate. In Sri Lanka, we talk about norms and culture. People keep evolving, culture keeps evolving. We live sometimes in an utopian mindset. We expect society to be something and it is not.”
Venuri Kalinga: “It’s funny how our sexual orientation decides whether we deserve Human Rights or not. As a community, the MUN arena is involved with lots of kids who are aware of everything. As the ExCo of SLMUN 2017, we have to power to facilitate what’s right and push for discussion.”
Mr. Cooke: “Society will have to look at the fluidity of heterosexuality. As the world evolves, people evolve and we are becoming more aware of ourselves.
MUN in a good thing. You are the creme a la creme of your generation of youth, you’ll be doing a lot of these- it’s a good sign."