Ethic in Protocol – Part II by Thomas Sladko

Ethic in Protocol – Part II

“Protocol is about the others not about ourselves”, like Ines Pires stated various times. As I had the honour of being quoted in the first part of this essay I would like to join the discussion and continue elaborating these thoughts about the ethics in protocol, a profession I have been working in for the last 10 years.

Food for thought and quite a huge topic to begin with indeed! Philosophically spoken I can observe 4 main areas where ethic should be discussed in protocol:

  1. One main function of protocol is representation. Protocol work is a kind of mirror and a spotlight of society. Therefore protocol is often abused by people in power. Politicians tend to abuse protocol to help them look better in the public spotlight and in the best case scenario win the next election or stay in power. By doing so they turn protocol into a tool that should work for them and not for the country, institution, state, etc. Following this path protocol itself turns into something variable, useable and personalised. If protocol professions let this happen, they behave unethically towards their own profession and towards every “normal” citizen who cannot distinguish between a “Symbol of a State, Institute, Organisation etc.” and a “Politician”, who uses the “Flag” just as he would use a car to get him from A to B. Representative work should therefore be done with more discreetness, remain objective and uninfluenced by politics and politicians.
  2. Protocol is not only a profession it is bit by bit becoming a scientific field of research and a science. More and more people understand how to distinguish between protocol and etiquette, finishing courses and good manners coaches. How to set up a table? How to use correctly a fork and a knife? How to dress properly for every occasion? How to manage small talk in every culture? … etc. these are typical examples of etiquette, finishing classes, good manners, image consultants, etc. and the world wide web and specially the social media is packed with so called experts who sell the same old wine in new skins. Many of these contents have been copied and pasted so often that no-one even remembers from whom the experience was stolen. There is of course the question of plagiarism to be taken into consideration but the ethical problem is more based on the cultural imperialistic approach of this “knowledge transfer”. People who are teaching others how to set up a table without explaining the cultural context of why and where this setting is appropriate make the fatal mistake of arrogance of knowing what is right and how it should be done everywhere at every occasion, in every culture and by everyone. This is unethical.
  3. Protocol is becoming a science and this will have quite a lot of interesting consequences in the near future. Science is globally based on generating new knowledge. Everyone who holds a Master Degree or a PhD knows that scientific work requires certain standards and certain methodologies on how to research and get to results. Scientific research is not done by putting the word “protocol” into Google or in other words – without a proper done research we cannot speak about knowledge. Sir Karl Popper would probably say: “How can you be sure that each State Visit contains as one main element Military Honours?” And to be very accurate and self reflective one would have to answer to him: “Well, at least the ones I saw”. The consequence is that we can never be 100% sure and by being insecure we become humble and slowly turn ourselves into a scientific researcher in the field. Knowledge, on the other hand can be gained by experience. But this experience is mostly personal and not yet generated into real knowledge. It can become knowledge but only if a proper scientific standard procedure was fulfilled. I frequently challenge course participants by requesting them to fulfil highest academic standards and being transparent with the resources they used. The world wide web is quite deceiving by making us believe that all content is correct and all knowledge can be found there. On the other hand modern plagiarism software detects copy paste content very easily and exposes immediately the violence against intellectual property. If anyone uses pictures, quotes, stories, experiences or intellectual property that are not 100% by him or her (and it is not clearly indicated as coming from external sources) we do not talk about an unmoral and unethical behaviour we talk about theft. If you are ever participating at a lecture, training or a conference where the expert is not indicating correctly the sources of pictures, videos, quotes he/she uses you have the right to demand the sources and you even have the moral obligation to bring this lack of transparence to the attention of the public! If someone would use your property without you knowing, you would like to know that as well, don’t you?
  4. Finally when protocol professionals forget that the others are in the focus and not themselves they do not understand the fundamental in this profession. Protocol turns quickly into a stage for them and not for the people they are hired to work for. This is not unethical behaviour – this is pure vanity. Actually we observe this very frequently: Conferences, workshops, so called “Master Classes” are held and the protocol lecture positions him (or herself) as the expert who knows all. We can observe that protocol professionals post selfies of them next to The Holy Father, Politicians, VIPs, celebrities, etc. This vanity is can be observed frequently and the social media are supporting this behaviour by the ongoing hunt for likes and hearts. Again we can detect a behaviour that makes our professional work look like we are just waiting until Angela Merkel has time during the Official Visit for a selfie with us to share on our social media profile and to give us the slight taste of how it could feel of being really important. If someone needs this small endorphins he/she should at least be decent because you should know that many of real hard worker in protocol are not like you! The moral obligation continues by attracting young professionals to this area of profession. Everyone who is investing in his/her education to become a protocol professional should know that true protocol is everything else but a shining profession in which you “meet” VIPs or Celebrities. It is a very interesting working field yes but it can be very demanding and challenging in terms of family life, relationships, responsibility, etc.

Unethical behaviour can be found in protocol – no doubt about that. The public spotlight attracts a lot of mosquitos who are attracted by the shining light. Unethical behaviour exists as well in the market and so many training companies and self called experts are copying slogans, contacting experts who are engaged with e.g. the ISPD, ideas, wordings and layouts – specially from innovative institutes like The ISPD.

I would like to finish with a personal statement: Since I started working in protocol I am frequently contacted by all known protocol and etiquette training companies and conferences worldwide to provide a key note speech or a case study or to lecture with them to share my experience or to work with them. Personally these offers are non attractive to me. The reason is simple: I am highly interested in protocol knowledge for professional reasons. I do not lecture just for the sake of money. My time is too precious to drink wine out of old skins. None of these companies are fulfilling the academic quality standards that would bring real added value for me and to the field of protocol. The format of all these conferences and even the experts are the same. For me this is Wikipedia or Google knowhow. No essence, no knowledge gain and no quintessence – overpriced.

The reason why I work for the ISPD is based on the fact that I love working in protocol and I am fascinated by contributing and helping to make this field more and more becoming a science. Well we are at a turing point which is probably good. We will soon see a separation and a launch of academic standards and public knowledge. This growth can only be done by following and maintaining high academic and ethical standards. That is the only way that knowledge is generated and afterwards shared and transmitted. Sir Karl Popper would probably ask at this point: “How can you be sure, Thomas?” And I would answer: ”Yes, because …”

to be continued …


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