Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Attitude and the Collective Consciousness

Life in the foreign service takes you out of your comfort zone, and although your comfort zone expands as you adjust, there may be certain aspects of living abroad that always make you anxious. Everyone interacts with a place differently, and as we travel one of the most important things we have the opportunity to explore is ourselves.

Anxiety about not having control comes with worldwide availability, and it is not uncommon to feel the need to distance ourselves from posts that scare us. However, by being aware of our feelings, we may be able to avoid harming our fellow foreign service members by imposing our negative feelings on our teammates.

Everyone has a different opinion about what makes a post "good." Some people love small hardship posts for their tight knit embassy communities. Some are happiest in large, cosmopolitan cities. Some people love danger posts in developing countries for the opportunity to be a part of an important American mission at the ground level. Some base everything on whether or not they can take their Vizsla for a walk. Regardless of our personal preferences, communicating negative opinions about another person's post assignment is never helpful.

It is perfectly ok to have feelings about a post, and absolutely necessary to express these feelings in an appropriate manner to the appropriate people. However, because our experiences are influenced by our expectations, we must be sensitive about expressing negativity to our fellow teammates in the diplomatic community. Facts are helpful; negative emotion is not. This includes feelings about a post's safety, especially if that post has recently made the news.

When you are going to a hardship or danger differential post--or both--it helps to know that you have the support of your community behind you. That your service is appreciated as a contribution to a larger global purpose; not as something happening to you, but as something you are doing with the support of others. 

We have all, at some point, responded poorly when hearing of someone else's post assignment. What is important is whether or not we were aware that we responded poorly. As a whole the foreign service is remarkably supportive and collegial, and it is this characteristic that makes it a joy to be part of this community. However, mindful sensitivity is an ongoing practice, and we must remember that even when we are separated by oceans, we are all in this together.

Julie overcomes her fear of the unknown


  1. Oh, lordy. It wasn't ME, was it?

  2. The post isn't specifically about me or an experience I've had, but describes something that occasionally happens within the community. People being negative about a post can be particularly discouraging to new FS officers and their families, as we/you/they don't really know what to expect from the lifestyle.

  3. It's Friday, and that means that the Seventh Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  4. It was that very negativity that led to reading blogs and writing a blog myself. I actively search for expat blogs and FS blogs from countries we are strongly considering when we are bidding. It gives me a different view than I get from other sources.

  5. I certainly know that you and Brian based your decision on where you can easily walk your puppy-dog...

    But seriously, I would pose a question to you, Dr. Spouse. What would you advise one of us FSOs to do when we are trying to be positive and supportive about a colleague's post and they themself continue to be overwhelmingly negative? Needless to say, it's an uncomfortable position to be in, particularly if your own feelings toward that post are less than positive.