Friday, October 16, 2009

Montana -- You Surprise Me!

When I hear the name of that state, I think of wild and woolly, gun-totin' ranchers and their hardy women and children. Guns are a big factor in the state. Hopefully their use is limited to taking out foraging wolves, bison, hawks and I suppose other wildlife competing for the ranchers' stock and grazing land. Traditional protocol and etiquette didn't fit the picture I had of these folks. I was wrong! In today's "The Fed Page" in the Washington Post, staff write Walter Pincus revealed that the Montana Army National Guard is taking up the banner of etiquette in training recruits before they are sent to the Middle East. Guard members will also learn basic language skills to better communicate with the people they will encounter and depend on for assistance and information. I am totally impressed and completely approve of this initiative. I also wish it would be applied to every military unit. Protocol and etiquette are fancy words for plain, old, simple, good manners infused with cultural sensitivity. Body language is something we Americans treat very casually, but it's loaded with meaning. For example: in some countries, it is the height of disrespect to reveal the bottom of one's shoe. In another country, shaking one's head from side to side means yes rather than no. It's true! Many of us are aware that traffic lights in China indicate the opposite of what they do here. In China, red means go. Showing respect for the traditions and social customs while visiting (or in this case, trying to liberate) another country is appropriate and indeed necessary if one wants to be accepted. The NATO mission in Afghanistan might stand a chance of success if troops remember that. We Americans have too often mocked others' customs and traditions. In the process, we estrange ourselves as boors and idiots. Money and power are important currency when it comes to influencing people. Respect and good manners are equally important if we want to win friends.

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