Monday, July 15, 2024

Bridging Passion and Practicality: Creativity in Diplomacy

By Zarelle Glen Dorothy Villanzana | February 23, 2024

Talking over podiums and discussing in seemingly important rooms with their ironed-out blazers and elegant poise—it’s easy to paint diplomats as serious people who leave no room for mistakes or imagination.

But French Deputy Chief of Mission Rémy Tirouttouvarayane proved otherwise during his visit to Silliman University on Feb. 15, where he talked about the French perspective on the role of diplomacy in a fragmented world.

It was buzzing in the Audiovisual Theater. Sir Rémy, although a stranger to most of the audience, brought with him the impression of a distant friend, catching us all up on his recent opinions and looking back on his past experiences as a diplomat. 

“It’s important in this field to be lucky,” he said as he spoke about being in the field of diplomacy after working in the music industry. Many students gasped in their seats with their eyes widened in curiosity. As young as the audience was, it seemed most interesting to hear about a diplomat having had the past life of an artist. 

“He’s just like you!” I quipped to the student seated on my right, Gabriel Catacutan, a freshman taking up a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Affairs, who is also a singer in a band.   

Continuing his speech, Sir Rémy shared more on the complexity of his field, and how he felt about the positions he held, soothing the audience with the thought that he didn’t always find his job enjoyable.

“I ended up in the Ministry of Finance, which was very boring,” he said, as people chuckled. “I was there for 18 months.” Afterward, he became the Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he mentioned he enjoyed more as he loved speaking to the press. He thinks it helps uphold democracy.

His talk spanned almost 30 minutes, ending with the message that it was important to work on the future, “And the future is you.” Thus, he was looking forward to meeting the audience, as well as for the audience to soon have the opportunity to visit France. 

The next segment was the open forum, where enthusiasm overflowed evidently. A number of the students enrolled in the School of Public Affairs and Governance (SPAG) asked relevant questions about current issues today: 

“Does the current UN (United Nations) system have such measures of accountability, and to what extent?”

“Is UNSC (United Nations Security Council) reform a viable option?”

“Alongside increasing the number of permanent UN members, are there other ways that allow the UN to act on conflicts?”

“What are the goals and interests that France and the Philippines share to improve  bilateral relations and global relations?”

In what seemed to be an hour-long rollercoaster ride of heavy questions, Sir Rémy was generous in his explanations, but also honest in admitting when some questions superseded his scope of knowledge, given his position. Then, a freshman from the crowd broke the ice:

“I’m curious, what was your work in the music industry?” she grinned. 

Sir Rémy laughed at this, along with everyone else. “That’s a good question,” the tone of the room was lightened. “I used to sing,” he admitted, and the crowd petitioned to hear a sample, to which he kindly refused. 

Despite the work seeming like a transition out of necessity—as most Filipino creatives find themselves in a similar predicament—this was not the case for Sir Rémy.

“I found it fun,” he said, citing the early days of his new role. In contrast, however, he also mentioned that being a diplomat was all “work, work, work.” How can a job occupation so demanding be considered fun?

More questions came forth, and eventually, an opportunity was given for a photo, as well as a chance to interact with the diplomat up close.

When he arrived nearby, I greeted him and shook his hand. From the moment he mentioned his previous occupation, I wondered heavily about the impact the switch had on him as a person. Surely, if you once ventured into a career in the arts, it doesn’t just leave you entirely. 

It is uncommon for Filipino youth to choose passion over practicality, and the students in SPAG have certainly not fallen short in showing their artistic capabilities. One student, Jether Malunda, recently won a part of the Best Interpreter award in the 2024 Valentine’s Songwriting Competition held the day before Sir Rémy’s talk. Other SPAG students also range from being a member of the dance troupe, being president of a music organization, and playing lead roles in student-directed plays, among a multitude of others. Regardless of nationality and position, these aspiring diplomats—foreseeing a busy life of public speaking and problem-solving, while honing their creative hobbies and embodying their artistic nature—are not very distinct from Sir Rémy after all.

I asked him about his career, emphasizing what he meant when he said diplomacy was fun.

“You have to be creative to be a diplomat,” Sir Rémy said, as he then mentioned how you will need this creativity to solve the world’s problems. Perhaps, this was how he survived the open forum, creatively curating feedback for the young and passionate minds of the university even when he knew his knowledge was not as extensive for certain topics. He also, perhaps unintentionally, opened the perspective that you don’t have to give up your artistic mind for a practical life. Sometimes, they work together.

In a fragmented world, if part of the role of diplomacy was to inspire others, Sir Rémy certainly did his job well.

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