How to make friends and alienate people

In my bookshelf I have a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. I haven’t read it. Yet. Why would a twenty year old man, content-with-life, have a self-help book with such an impressive title?

Boudewijn Vijfhuizen*

To be honest, I can’t remember why I ever bought it. Perhaps it was a sign of fate: that one day I would be sitting at the NPT Prep Com, in Geneva. Looking around I couldn’t help but notice the implementation of Carnegie’s catchy title all around me: lobbyists, diplomats, experts, all of whom have a message to spread and hence must be skilful in the arts of Dale’s mantra.

Seeing as I don’t comply with this mantra, much like the United State’s non-compliance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s (NPT) article 1, I’ll just make up my own and declare that introspection, reflexion and creativity as (a few of) its cornerstones. Much like the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament is the NPT. Despite its pitfalls and shortcomings, it’s still around after 40+ years of selective adherence. Speaking of selective adherence, I’ll decide to stick to the creative approach for today, and share some of my thoughts with you.

Sitting in the Assembly Hall, I can’t help but think of alienation and Brecht’s Epic Theatre. Everything in the Hall is larger than life: the giant gilded emblem of the UN that graces the wall behind the elevated, massive chairperson’s bench (flanked by four smaller ones); the high, vaulted ceiling and lack of sunlight; the huge marble pillars that seem to support the entirety of the hall and the weight of its lofty air.

Speaking of the lofty air, the proliferation of suits adds to it as well and it is certainly no small matter either regarding the alienating affects. I do honestly enjoy wearing a suit, but it seems to erect a barrier of approachability, casualness and (perhaps in some cases) sincerity. It might be farfetched to think that suits somewhat alienate people, but think about what it would mean if disarmament diplomats would do their work in sweatpants and hoodies.

Speaking of the Theatre: the general debate that takes place within the confines of the Assembly Hall all seems highly scripted. It makes it a somewhat static occasion that simulates verbal ping-pong between the chair and the delegations making their statements.

Yet, outside the hall everything changes. The character of alienation melts away (although the suits don’t), and with that the feeling of being tiny and under the constant scrutiny of the chairperson. It is at this point that I started to make the connection with the alienating characteristics of the Assembly Hall. In the end alienation in Epic Theatre serves the purpose creating awareness among the public that what is seen on stage is a staged act, and to make the “proletariat” enjoy the theatre and become conscious of their position within society. In essence, it’s about become aware of the ideology that enforces the structures of society. Much like Epic Theatre, I think that attending this NPT Prep Com is very much an exercise in furthering the consciousness of how the ideology of diplomacy works within a multilateral setting.

* Boudewijn Vijfhuizen is bachelor student of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Leiden University College and is one of the Nuclear Diplomacy Crash Course students of this year.