December 8, 2010

Red Antler Earmuffs Diplomacy

In my corner of the world, the shocking news on November 23 that North Korea had just launched an artillery barrage on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island made the prospect of a full-blown war on the Korean peninsula less remote than it had been before. It is a real and dangerous ratcheting-up of regional tensions that has global implications. But I have found a potential solution to this geopolitical crisis: spontaneous laughter induced by red antler earmuffs.

Last Friday I was driving down the hill near our apartment on my regular commute to the office. There is a special North Korean school near the top of this hill. So every morning I usually see a long line of students dutifully hiking up to school in their austere, dark uniforms. There was a slight difference this particular Friday. One young female student had put on very colorful red reindeer antler earmuffs which were very visible above the bobbing sea of heads. As I drove past, I glanced in her direction -- she recognized I was a westerner – and then she and I, and all of her immediate coterie of friends, spontaneously cracked up in a burst of laughter. Their faces lit up and I chuckled all the way to the office.

I reckon that if a pair of red earmuffs can bridge generations, language, culture and politics in a split second of sharing, there is no reason why a similar lighthearted government effort cannot keep the peace in northeast Asia. Force the diplomatic and military leaders to have a couple of glasses of soju together and let the laughs fly instead of missiles! I believe humor can trump politics, despite the lunatic and homicidal behavior by the North Korean government. I presume that even the leaders of despotic regimes have a reservoir of humanity, and that’s where the work should start…with a laugh.

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