It is easy to be beguiled by the press of current events and neglect the important aspects of public affairs, building relationships that last. As I evolved in my PD career, I found that I moved from an emphasis on media to one of relationships built with exchanges and cultural events.
I came to understand that media types and journalists were like cats. They came around as long as you had cream. You could build relationships with them, but the prime mover always remained short-term transactional. The culture and education folks were like dogs. They stuck with you. What you were doing today made less difference. I hope neither group is upset by the analogy, but having both cats and dogs and having worked with journalists and culture and education people, I think the broad outlines work.
This came to mind yesterday when I was invited to the Brazilian Embassy for the 60th anniversary of Fulbright in Brazil. I was president of Fulbright in Brazil when I was PAO there, but I left the job in 2014. Yet, still they wanted me there.
I am a true believer in educational exchanges, and Fulbright is the gold standard. Educational exchange is one of the few places where you can be almost assured that all participants will be improved. It benefits those who come, those who they meet here and those they leave in their home countries.
I like to quote Thomas Jefferson, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” But I would go even a bit further. By sharing knowledge, we increase the light in the world for everybody and by sharing with others we have more for ourselves too.
John Matel is a Virginia tree farm owner, Conservationist & President of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation. Previously a career member of the senior Foreign Service at U.S. Department of State, he served most recently as senior international advisor at the Smithsonian Institution and before that as public affairs officer in Brazil, where he was also president of the Fulbright Commission; Provincial Reconstruction Team leader embedded with Marine Combat Regiments in western Anbar Province, Iraq; press attaché in Warsaw and Oslo and public affairs officer in Krakow and Porto Alegre, Brazil. John was State Department Fellow at Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, earned an MA in ancient history from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA in marketing/marketing research from the University of Minnesota.
John Matel is president of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation. Previously he was president of the Fulbright Commission in Brazil, senior International advisor at Smithsonian Institution, and a State Department fellow at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. With over 16 years of experience at the State Department, Matel has worked to understand societies, information and behaviors, and shape strategies to engage networked publics.