Can we all be Ambassadors of Goodwill?

This article is being republished from Okinawa, Japan in 2012 by an anonymous blogger (contributor) of the III Marine Expeditionary Force where it was placed in the public domain. This article does not reflect the positions or views of the Goodwill Ambassador Commission, but Goodwill Ambassadors felt that it important and should be republished.

We Can All Be Ambassadors of Goodwill

Original article - III Marine Expeditionary Force 

We often hear the phrase, “Be a good ambassador,” but we may not know just what this means for us, as Marines, sailors, DOD civilians and family members. After all, there already is an official U.S. ambassador to Japan, who is located in Tokyo, who represents the president of the United States and the U.S. government here in Japan. So, how can we, as individuals far away from the capital of Japan, really be considered ambassadors, you might ask?

Six uniformed Marine officers
Officers of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (Photo: Okinawa Marine 2008)

The modern version of the word derives from the French word, “ambassadeur,” but its early origins can be traced to the Latin word, “ambactus,” which means “servant.” According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, there are at least four definitions for ambassador:

  1. a diplomatic official of the highest rank appointed and accredited as representative in residence by one government or sovereign to another, usually for a specific length of time;
  2. a diplomatic official heading his or her country’s permanent mission to certain international organizations, such as the United Nations;
  3. an authorized messenger or representative; and
  4. an unofficial representative, such as ambassadors of goodwill.

It is this last definition that is most relevant here, and the one we should take to heart in all that we do in Japan, as well as wherever we find ourselves when abroad in both official and private capacities.

Some of us may not realize or fully appreciate it, but our behavior and attitude in our daily activities and interactions with residents form lasting impressions of who we are as Americans. Indeed, for many people, especially children, we may be the very first American they have ever spoken to, shared a seat with, or have had a door held open by. As such, these first (and perhaps only) impressions are crucial in our engagement with the Japanese people.

Conversely, when we misbehave, are rude, speak with profanity, dress sloppily, break a law, or are otherwise obnoxious and offend our Japanese neighbors, we are certainly not being good ambassadors to our host nation.

A good rule to follow on being a good ambassador is an extension of “the Golden Rule”—treat others as you would wish to be treated. In other words, we should act in a foreign country as we would want visitors to the United States to act in our country. It is that simple.

My background is as a professor and writer of diplomatic history. There are countless incidents from the more than 150-year history of the U.S.-Japan relationship where bad behavior and the misunderstanding that developed out of the incident affected the bilateral relationship for years to come.

Our misbehavior and failure to respect local laws, customs and courtesies can have serious implications and repercussions. They reflect badly on not just ourselves but on our command and on our country.

Importantly, on the other hand, there are many more episodes where one positive interaction, one act of kindness, one gesture of goodwill and compassion changed a person, school or community forever and, in some cases, their view of the United States and its people.

Which do you want to be remembered for, Mr. or Mrs. Ambassador?

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