13 February 2011

Lunch Break (EN)

—What’s the situation in Romania, these days?
—Do you want the short or the long answer?
—The short one, please :-)
—Good! ;-)
—Are you sure, that’s all?  How about the long one?
—Not good! :-(
[adaptation from an imaginary dialog offered by a participant, under the Chatham House Rule]
This past Thursday, on the occasion of Commissioner Malmström’s visit to Romania, I attended a working lunch with several other representatives of civil society.  I already gave a brief account of the meeting elsewhere, so the scope of this post is different.

I am just amazed at how such meetings can be utterly productive, in spite of the overall perception they’d be totally boring.  A very good friend (and then co-worker) had told me, about 8-9 years ago, that she wouldn’t go to such meetings, for it’s a waste of her time, so we decided I’d go in her stead.  Thus, over the years, I’d realized I have quite a ‘collection’ of meeting political VIPs.  But I’m not going to give you the full list here…

I just want to note how the dynamics of such meetings vary with the authority or the clout of the special guest.  The point is that one doesn’t get to meet higher importance VIPs all of a sudden, but has to bear with the process of climbing up the ladder.  Patience with the process pays off—first of all, in terms of adapting the expectations of what is possible and acceptable at such meetings;  secondly, in terms of learning what makes such a meeting successful;  finally, in terms of interpreting the value of various ideas offered at such meetings.

This past Thursday, in the lunch break, I’ve revisited and relearned the meaning and the lessons of the Schattschneider principle, “the definition of alternatives is the supreme instrument of power” (1975), which I often reformulate as “(real) power belongs (only) to the agenda-setter.”  I think I had a good week :-)


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