Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Diplomats on a swing … (not swinging diplomats)

Published on 22 June 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

I was answering my eMail, at the reception of the resort in Kerala where I’m staying at the moment, when I heard sweet talk coming from the side. A mother and her teen-age boys were rocking gently on a wooden swing, talking, and sharing.


The photo, taken later, is a bit contrived: the feet are on the floor. The feet should be slightly off the ground, giving each person more of a fetal position.

The multiple-seat swing has a long social tradition in India. Untold Indian miniatures from the past portray people talking to each other as they swing leisurely – probably this movement also provided some cooling air in the hot season. I surmise: the swing was also present in Persia.

If it ever existed there, this socially charged multi-seat swing has practically disappeared from Western furniture. Seats in the West signal individual autonomy and self-inscenation. The way people place themselves in chairs and settees (a raj term) or diwan (a muslim term) is often implicitly confrontational – unless people huddle together in watching TV.

The scene I witnessed brought back an ancient and highly civilized (i.e. human) way of holding conversation. As I heard the voices of mother and sons, the tone struck me as soothing. The three shared points of view, and there was no trace of parental authority. All were welcome to share in the reflection. Physical proximity yielded warm reassurance. Lack of direct eye contact created an ambiguous space surrounding the swing, where opinions, possibilities and conditionalities could be voiced without loss of face. The feet off the ground gave their thoughts the necessary tentativeness that alone can allow a creative thought to emerge and develop.

I would suggest that all negotiating venues have a multi-seat swing: it should be solid and reassuring, yet gently balancing possibilities. An Indian multi-seat swing, carved from fragrant teak or rosewood, would yield a multicultural setting.

Together, senior negotiators might want to swing in them from time to time, feet off the ground for once, and let proximity, and the soothing feel of balance, set the mood (a Western version might be the famed “walk in the woods”). The subtlest aspect is the propulsion. Those sitting on the wooden plank impart the movement together: one moves unthinkingly from coordination to creating synergies. After a while, the smallest push suffices.

What outcome do I expect? As always, small changes have large effects (note the war-like terminology) and may subtly modify points of view. The rest is a path-dependent outcome.

If you press me, here is another allegory from Coconut Lagoon:


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