All posts by placheli

Five Reasons Why Diplomacy Should Involve Families

(c) Paul Lachelier 2019

Our world is becoming more complex and interdependent as more people, goods, services and interactions flow across national borders.  This changing global reality has triggered xenophobic, sometimes violent reactions that have been validated and amplified by political activists and opportunistic leaders.  Diplomacy is rightly upheld as an important response to the mounting tensions within and between some countries, but diplomacy should not be left strictly to professionals.  The internet and smart phones open exciting possibilities for citizens to be involved in diplomacy to help promote peace, prosperity and justice, but success and our global future depend in part on fresh approaches.   This is the second in a series of posts intended to develop family diplomacy as a new form of citizen diplomacy.  Read the first post here.  

Thanks to Learning Life intern Marley Henschen for her assistance in the research for this post.  

Diplomacy can be simply defined as the management of international relations.  Yet the adjective “diplomatic” — that is, dealing with people tactfully — suggests diplomacy is a broader social art or ethic especially needed in our divided world.  Given international divides sometimes erupt into violence, why would one want to get families involved?  Here are five reasons.

1. Value:

The search for common ground is one of the staple practices of diplomacy, and if there is one institution which people across the world commonly cherish it is probably the family.  While precise international evidence for this common value is harder to find, according to the World Values Survey, strong majorities of people in 29 countries worldwide — from 75% in India to 99% in Colombia — believe that “more emphasis on family would be a good thing” (Social Trends Institute).       

2. Impact:

Families are impacted by most international forces and trends, from war and terrorism, to trade and immigration, to climate change and disease transmission.  Because families are widely valued and vulnerable to so many international forces and trends, advocates and policymakers frequently call for the protection and support of families, but rarely for their political empowerment.  Individual citizens in liberal democratic societies are free to, and in some cases expected to participate in the decisions that affect their lives (at least by voting for their government representatives).  In corporatist countries like Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Norway, groups like business associations and labor unions — not just individuals — have a say in government decisions that affect them.  Families, like businesses and labor unions, are impacted by government decisions, and have distinct interests and associations representing them on various issues.  So, why shouldn’t families also have a seat at the decision-making table, at local to global levels, including international diplomacy?

3. Empowerment:
Family Diplomacy

Involving families in diplomacy can also empower kids, parents and grandparents as global citizens by nurturing valuable experiences, contacts and skills as well as a larger sense of purpose and significance.  For these and other reasons, there is considerable interest in the United Nations to include youth in decision-making (see, for example, the 2009 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, General Comment #12).  Yet far less thought is given to involving kids as members of families, including parents, grandparents and guardians. Of course, not all families speak with the same voice, nor do their members speak with equal status, and some voices — especially those of women and children — are often routinely stifled or subordinated within families.  But not all families need be engaged in diplomacy.  Families that demonstrate interest in diplomacy can be selected from all classes and countries, and should model not only interest, but tolerance and equality so that all people can see men, women and children unafraid to participate.  Further, parents, grandparents and children can form distinct groups that meet separately then together to develop then share their respective concerns about, aspirations for, and interests in world affairs.

4. Responsibility:

For most of human history, most kids in hunter-gatherer then settled agricultural societies spent most of their time at work, rest or play with their families and larger kinship groups.  With the proliferation of factories and schools in the 1800s, more kids spent more time segregated from their parents.  In the most modern societies marked by rapid change, commercialism and individualism, families now spend a minority of their waking time interacting, and seem increasingly strange to each other because rapid change sharpens generational differences, individualism nurtures a desire to lead separate lives based on interests rather than kinship, and commercialism turns families’ attention toward products (screens, games, shows, clothes, music bands, etc.) rather than each other.

There is ample evidence that youth who spend more time alone or in groups of youth unsupervised by parents or other responsible adults are more likely to get injured, do worse in school, and develop behavioral problems, including risky behaviors like consuming alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (Warr 1993, Pettit et al. 1997, Kerrebrock & Lewit 1999, Mott et al. 1999, Colwell et al. 2001, Updegraff et al. 2006, Keijsers et al. 2012).  There is no turning back to hunter-gatherer or agricultural societies to bring families back together, nor should we want to return to those harsh, precarious eras.  But if modern people still value families, and family supervision encourages kids to act more responsibly, then involving families — not just youth — in government and diplomacy can be a modern vehicle for bringing families together, and for socializing kids as responsible global citizens.        

5. Care:

The preceding three reasons deal more with how families would benefit from their involvement in diplomacy.  This fifth and last reason points to a benefit for families and diplomacy alike.  That is, involving families in diplomacy can promote a culture of care in and beyond the family.  Families play a distinct if not unique role as a care-giving institution.  Families can look very different — large, small, multigenerational, bi- or multi-national, inter-racial, straight, gay, with one, two or more parents, with adopted kids, etc. — but they all tend to have the same fundamental purpose or aspiration: to care for each other.  Publicly elevating (e.g., highlighting, rewarding, publicizing) family care-giving, by making families part of government and diplomacy, has the potential to inspire more caring not only among families, but also in government policy and practice.  

In these fractious times, caring families could be a potent force for a more peaceful world.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life


Colwell, Malinda J., Gregory S. Pettit, Darrell Meece, John E. Bates, and Kenneth A. Dodge. 2001. “Cumulative Risk and Continuity in Nonparental Care from Infancy to Early Adolescence.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 47(2): 207–34.

Keijsers, Loes, Susan Branje, Skyler T. Hawk, Seth J. Schwartz, Wim Meeus, Tom Frijns, Hans M. Koot, and Pol van Lier.  2012. “Forbidden Friends as Forbidden Fruit: Parental Supervision of Friendships, Contact With Deviant Peers, and Adolescent Delinquency.” Child Development 83(2): 651–666.

Kerrebrock, Nancy, and Eugene M. Lewit. 1999. “Children in Self-Care.” Future of Children 9(2): 151–60.

Mott, Joshua A., Paul A. Crowe, Jean Richardson, and Brian Flay. 1999. “After-School Supervision and Adolescent Cigarette Smoking: Contributions of the Setting and Intensity of After-School SelfCare.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 22(1): 35–58.

Pettit, Gregory S., Robert D. Laird, John E. Bates, and Kenneth A. Dodge. 1997. “Patterns of AfterSchool Care in Middle Childhood: Risk Factors and Developmental Outcomes.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 43(3): 515–38.

Social Trends Institute.  “Global Family Culture.”  Retrieved on 8/10/19.

Updegraff, Kimberly A., Susan M. McHale, Shawna M. Thayer, and Shawn D. Whiteman. 2006.  “The Nature and Correlates of Mexican-American Adolescents’ Time with Parents and Peers.” Child Development 77(5): 1470–1486.

Warr, Mark. 1993.  “Parents, Peers, and Delinquency.” Social Forces 72(1): 247–264.

Three Equalizers in an Unequal World

(c) Paul Lachelier 2019

Published at Democracy Chronicles online here.

The world is growing more unequal, but not quite because “the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.” The good news is that the percentage of extremely poor people has actually shrunk greatly worldwide over the last several decades. The bad news is that the already-rich are getting richer. There are a number of reasons for these trends, but my purpose here is to remind us all that despite growing inequality worldwide, ordinary people have three specific, significant and actionable forms of equalizing power.

First, rich or poor, weak or powerful, everyone has 24 hours in their day. That may sound obvious, but what you make of your non-working waking hours is up to you, and activists beg for your volunteer time for good reason: time is not just money, time is power. Given this equalizing fact that we all have 24 hours per day, and that there are millions of good people who don’t volunteer their time for the greater good, the potential for social change is great if more people invested more hours per day, week or month to making the world a better place for all.

Second, each person has one vote, no matter who they are. We often hear that the rich rule, or that “money talks.” That’s often true, but in functioning democracies, all the money spent on elections is devoted to getting people to vote because money doesn’t vote, people do. That’s why you sometimes hear of candidates that come out of nowhere, and win with little money, but a lot of time (Point #1 above) invested in organizing and connecting with voters (Point #3 below).

Third, in all places, there is power in numbers. I am not talking about numbers of dollars, but numbers of people. I sometimes hear children or foreigners say “I can’t vote, so I don’t have a voice.” Nonsense. Anyone who can mobilize voters has power, and the more voters you mobilize, the more power you have. A fourteen-year old can’t vote, but if she mobilizes five people to vote the way she wants them to, she has exercised five times the power of the adult who voted alone. A foreigner can’t vote, but can assemble at their home a group of neighbors who vote then invite a local politician. Aspiring and elected officials flock not just to money, but to groups of voters, like issue groups, churches, senior citizen communities, etc.

If you hope for and/or fight for equality and justice, never forget these three equalizers.

Introducing Democracy Dinners

(c) Paul Lachelier 2019

With the intent to connect democracy (broadly defined) professionals, activists and academics across specialty silos, and to nurture cross-fertilizing conversation about a variety of democracy issues and areas of work in metro Washington DC, Learning Life is organizing Democracy Dinners. For more about the Dinners, or to add yourself or someone else to the invitation list, click here.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.

P.S. Thanks to marketing and strategy consultant, Dorie Clark, from whose networking dinners these Democracy Dinners are adapted.)

Seven Ways of Being in the World

(c) Paul Lachelier 2019

Given globalization — in short, countries’ growing economic, political and environmental interconnection driven in part by advancements in communications and transport — it behooves those interested in the wider world to consider the ways that people live in or engage with the world.  Why?  Because some of those ways are good, some are problematic, and all together reveal sharp inequalities.  I see seven ways that people cross (or do not cross) national borders and live in the world, for better or worse.

7 Ways of Being in the World

It is worth stressing that the following seven ways describe not types of people but ways of being, that some (usually more privileged) individuals can shift from one way to another sometimes in the same week or day, and over a lifetime any person may engage with the world in more than one of these ways.  Also, my definitions of these seven ways are overall more encompassing and in many cases different than those of other organizations, like the United Nations and Amnesty International.  Further, I do not provide estimates on the numbers of people engaged in these seven ways of being in the world since others provide estimates, these numbers change constantly, and my purpose here is to paint a bigger picture.

1. The disengaged: It is probably best to start with the largest group, who are not engaged with the world outside their country much if at all.  Whether due to ideology, geographic isolation, institutional disconnection, insufficient resources, or some combination thereof, the disengaged know little about the world and have traveled little if at all outside their country.  Because the world outside their country, or even their community, is far and foreign in their minds, some (not all) of the disengaged are wary of foreigners and of traveling abroad.

2. Non-exploited workers: These workers move out of their native country, with or without their family, to find or take work in other countries.  They typically have had relatively privileged upbringings, have more education and social status, have legal right to work in a foreign country, and make more money from their work.  They may be government foreign affairs officers, transnational business executives and employees, or nonprofit workers.  Like exploited workers, non-exploited workers more commonly live and work in richer countries, where there are more economic opportunities, and life is more stable and prosperous.

3. Exploited workers: Like non-exploited workers, exploited workers leave their native country to find or take work, with or often without their families.  However, they tend to have unprivileged upbringings, less education and social status, may not have the legal right to work, and take jobs that do not pay well by the host country’s standards.  Furthermore, their employers or managers often overwork or otherwise abuse them (yell at them, hit them, sexually harass or assault them, expose them to dangerous working conditions, etc.) yet the workers voluntarily endure the exploitation because they are able to work and earn more money than they would in their home communities.  Many work in construction, farms, factories, or domestic service.  Many exploited workers do not see their families for long periods of time, yet they receive enough in wages to send home money (“remittances”), which can constitute a significant portion of their families’ and countries’ income.

4. Slaves: Millions of people in the world are enslaved, despite the fact that laws in most countries prohibit slavery.  Unlike exploited workers, slaves do not voluntarily submit to their exploitation; they work and are confined against their will, often in their own countries.  Most are poor, and come from poorer and highly unequal countries.  Some get tricked with promises of better lives and trafficked into richer countries, where they commonly do sex, factory, farm and/or domestic work.

5. Refugees: Unlike exploited workers who leave their home country for better economic opportunities, refugees flee their country due to war, persecution or natural disaster.  More conflict, authoritarian government and climate change usually mean more refugees.  Some refugees are legally accepted in foreign countries.  Others — called “asylum seekers” if they’re escaping war or persecution — are not, and live insecure lives as they seek legal permission to live in the country they fled to, working whatever undocumented jobs they can find to make ends meet.

6. Vacationers: As incomes rise across the world, more people have the disposable income to be able to travel abroad.  The standard vacationer visits a foreign country to consume its food, sites and experiences, and to have a good time.  Some travel companies create all-inclusive resorts so that vacationers never have to leave the resort to see the country and people around it.  Vacationers understandably tend to flock to politically and economically more stable countries, but all countries welcome foreign vacationers with open arms because they have more money than most of the world’s people, and they usually spend more money on vacation than they do at home.

7. Global citizens: Global citizens are typically as privileged as vacationers, but unlike vacationers they travel abroad primarily to learn and/or volunteer rather than consume and have a good time.  Whether they take classes, volunteer as teachers, community developers or religious missioners, they tend to engage more deeply than vacationers with the people of the foreign countries they live in or visit.  As more people across the world get more income and education, global citizens, like vacationers, will likely become more common (assuming relative peace and economic stability among nations).  Among these seven ways of being, global citizens may also be the best grassroots agents for nurturing goodwill among nations.

For more information about world migration patterns and trends, visit the International Organization for Migration, which issues detailed reports.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.