Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

A ‘use’ definition of a diplomat

Published on 17 January 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

I closed a previous blog post (206) by saying that “diplomacy is where there are no rules”[1]. Here is a situation, which would fit a “use” definition of diplomacy. (A “use” definition is one that describes what one does, rather than what one is).

It’s a dark and stormy night; the rain pours so hard, the car lights reflect the rain and you concentrate fully just to negotiate the turns and twists of the road. Suddenly, under a roadside shed you see three people signaling frantically.

You stop: an old lady needs desperately to be taken to the next hospital, you are told. You recognize your friend John, who saved your life once and desperately needs to go to the airport. And then – you behold the person you’d love to have as partner (there are not enough women diplomats, so formulate the conundrum in PC terms, lest male-chauvinist stigma creep in).

Alas, you drive a Smart – a two-seater car. You can only pick up one person (the story one can put seven people in a Mini is urban lore – I know, I drove one). What do you do? You only have seconds to decide.

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You get out of the car; hand over the keys to John, who drives the old lady to the hospital, and will leave the car in the airport parking lot. The night is young for you to get to know your dream-person while huddling together under a scanty roof.

(Alright! It feels stale and tastes a bit like a press-communique after a long night in a “green room” – but such is the fate of retelling suspense).

[1] For those who wish to have my prejudice spelled out, here an example from the sinking of the Titanic: “Maurice Clarke, the inspector who approved Titanic for sailing, defended his cursory survey by saying that no more was customary: ‘Well, you will remember I am a civil servant,’ he told the British inquiry. ‘Custom guides us a good bit.’” Source: LRB – Vol. 35 No. 2 · 24 January 2013

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