This week I attended the 2015 Omaha Ambassadors Forum, created through a partnership between the Burlington International Group and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The event brings distinguished and honorable US Ambassadors to Omaha to discuss and address highly sensitive political and global topics consuming the international arena. This year’s forum featured Ambassadors Jim Collins, Robert Hunter, Allan Wendt and Ronald Neuman, all of whom are veterans of international diplomatic service.
What I found compelling was that they articulated viewpoints that were nuanced, reasoned and rational without any assumption of an overt political position. Their intelligence was profoundly evident in their capacity to be open and willing to engage in discussion. Their discourse on international matters touched on areas where there might be dissent but without any descent into being disagreeable. They were able to embrace the vague instead of ignorant certainty. Moreover, they were able to see the world from the points of view of those across the negotiating table. Empathy is understanding and is not necessarily contrary to arguing for our own aspirations.
Two of the ambassadors explicitly exhorted elected officials to “cool the rhetoric” and to “stop dehumanizing” other peoples of the world. In short, I was delighted and reassured that, despite the paucity of authentic conversational ability on the part of many of our elected officials and their collective inanity, our diplomatic servants were magnificent ambassadors (excuse the pun) for the art of conversation.