Soft Power: The Humane Way


I’m getting it.  I am finally finding some alternative policies that would allow us to be better human beings, with an emphasis on personal ethics, individual responsibility, a true sense of community and even world peace.  My revelations are based on ideas not original to me, so I will be citing links that will offer more detail and clarification.  I make no claims to being a student of political science.  But I have been around the block once or twice and raised two beautiful kids for the last 30 years.  I certainly can tell when patterns of behavior are effective and beneficial, and cull out my detrimental tactics in shaping that behavior.  My thoughts are entirely derivative and I aim to synthesize already-known ideas; nevertheless, I hope they will bring a little hope to your world as they have to mine.

Let’s face facts: people, militaries, the industrial complex and nations will never give up their quest for power.  Won’t happen.  Since this deep lust is not going away any time soon, perhaps we need to devise new strategies to fulfill our age-old desire for might and money.  Consequently, upon listening to NPR today, I learned of a saner, more humane method of building and maintaining power.    An alternative ideology was coined in 1990 by Joseph Nye in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power” and subsequently applied to the real world when he worked with President Clinton.  This concept  is called “soft power”, but do not be mistaken: the word “soft” has no relevance to this concept’s staying power and impact in building a world where we can all get along.

I will cite examples of this theory of soft power starting with the most mundane and progressing to the most potentially world-changing.  Perhaps the most simplest explanation of soft power is by way of dog training.  Up until a few decades ago, the accepted method of training a dog was based on “hard power”, making the pet fear you and your power over him.  This goes back to the dog’s evolutionary history as a member of a pack, paying fealty to the Alpha dog.  Thus, choke collars, aggressive training techniques and fear were used to get the dog to perform the desired behaviors.

A new (it is not new at all, just newly implemented) theory of dog training has emerged over the last couple of decades.  It is based on positive reinforcement rather than negative feedback.  Instead of using fear to make the dog behave, treats and positive words are offered when he does something well.  If he acts badly, he is totally ignored.  This method takes much time, patience and consistence.  It is not as “instant” to the trainer as a negative approach.   However, it is much more humane and I believe, longer-lasting than the harsh, old method.

A similar outlook is applied to child-rearing.  Corporal punishment is effective for the moment and perhaps might even afford the parent an immediate release of his anger, but certainly it is not useful in shaping long-term behaviors.  Thus, the practice of “time-out” is widely accepted now instead of beating the child.  Removal from his regular surroundings and people he loves is much more effective in shaping behavior than a retaliatory slap, hit or shove, not to mention the sheer humanity of not physically abusing a child.  “Monkey see, monkey do” is the first rule of thumb when raising children.  Therefore, why set the example of physical harm as a means to get the child to behave?  The parent’s behavior will them be imitated by the child; violence begets violence.

Remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally”?  The scene in the deli when Meg Ryan perfectly imitates having an orgasm?  Then the waitperson goes up the customer at another table and asks her, “What would you like?”.  The diner, looking over towards Meg Ryan,  responds. “I want what she’s having.”  Bingo!  That’s it.  By making your fellow human being want what you have, hopefully peaceful, just and benevolent things, BY SETTING THE EXAMPLE, might be the answer to our penchant for economic thievery, armed conflicts and downright destruction of each other.

This practice of attraction rather than coercion is soft power.  On an even grander scale than pet training or child-rearing, BP has the choice now to use soft power to make a difference.  The ecological damage is done and the first priority must be to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf.  Given.  However, imagine if BP made good on their promise to unconditionally pay for the clean-up, compensate those businesses and individuals who have lost their livelihoods and overall, set an example of responsible corporate behavior.  I daresay that would challenge other multinational corporations to toe the line in an imitative way.  The idea is to make it more attractive to do good rather than forcibly, through destructive methods, effecting change to attain the same ends.

Look at the nation of India.  They produced an incredible, transformative leader  by the name of Mohandas Gandhi.  Yes, my discussion is overly simplistic, but you know your way around the Web to find more detailed articles.  Gandhi not only brought political independence to India, but also gifted the world with his humane, non-violent philosophy.  The result of his work made peaceful methods for co-existence attractive, mainstream.  Of course, even though Gandhi brought political independence to India, they still did not have economic viability, which is equally important for prosperity and peace.   That process took many more decades.  But as India progressed in their ruling philosophies, so did the general attractiveness of their culture.  Other nations wanted to emulate them.  This is a critical element of soft power, i.e. using cultural mores to heal rifts.  The natural, forward progression would be that through political, economic and especially cultural dissemination of ideas, peace would ensue.  Here is a video of Shashi Tharoor, a member of the Indian Parliament, that so clearly outlines the benefits of soft power.

China also has come to use soft power techniques to  make its political and economic positions more attractive.  The first time they truly used soft power to attain their national and international ends was probably in hosting the 2008 Olympics.  Joseph Nye wrote a good piece on this endeavor into soft power.  The Olympics were a good start.  Much more detailed information is available on China’s increased use of soft power.  Yes: much reading and listening because much learning is essential to affect change.

I believe that President Obama is also using techniques of soft power to change our world for the better.  By setting the example of an educated, deeply intellectual, cool-demeanored, dedicated public leader, he is probably doing more good than any war ever did.  He is fully aware that in order to create a more equitable world, militarily and economically speaking, other nations will have to want what we have.  That is, our good attributes (not our wars with Viet Nam, Iraq, etc.) will become a magnet for other nations to emulate us in their quest for political and economic power, and thus, world nations will then implement positive methods for reaching those same end goals.

Andrew Sullivan has been a staunch supporter of Barack Obama.   The two following links will demonstrate his reasons and then Michael Tomasky will write on the ultimate value of President Obama’s term in power:

I know: a lot of reading.  Dissemination of ideas and knowledge are our one big hope for a more fair, peaceful world order.  This is one of President Obama’s constant messages.  I know: a lot of reading.  But that is the least we can do for our children and their children.  Soft power is an idea  whose time has come.  Its positive influence can have startling effects on such small things as our dogs’ behaviors  or incredibly positive repercussions on  much larger spheres such as international relations.

A truly good dog owner, parent, citizen, corporation, leader and nation will not attain “power” through alienation by force but instead, by using positive attraction and example-setting by more humane policies.  It is imperative that we use soft power to get us all to put down our weapons, to cease corrupt, unjust economic policies and to make humanity count.


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