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Opinion

After anti-Islam video and Muslim riots, we are all ambassadors

Ambassadorship is no longer reserved for elites. In this era of digital interconnectedness, we are all called upon to use free speech to foster peace, not violence. To honor Ambassador Stevens, let us uphold that responsibility in our online – and offline – interactions.

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Everyday ambassadors no longer simply represent specific countries, but sets of values, and values now spread quickly and consequentially. Mobile communication and even Internet access is no longer a luxury of high-income citizens. When disparaging, insulting, and disrespectful statements are sent into the online ether, these values can proliferate. They proliferate faster the more we talk about an “other,” and the less we have meaningful, respectful interaction with others not like us.

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Through online channels, those interactions can collect into a jumbled twist of negative emotions, misunderstandings, and failed communications that can ultimately result in tragic offline consequences.  

In a diverse world so naturally full of opposing viewpoints, how are we to avoid outcomes like those of the past week?

Ordinary Libyan people exemplified a poignant ideal of everyday ambassadorship in the hours immediately following Stevens’s death. Their immediate outpouring of support, love, and shared grieving for the American people, through pro-America rallies and especially via photographed poster messages shared widely online, clarified that the embassy attack “does not represent us.”

These citizens also revealed a secret to high-quality ambassadorship: using online spaces to communicate the same sincerity as if one were speaking face-to-face. Their actions – on- and off-line – reinstated a set of positive values that still have the potential to ripple out and promote more peaceful days ahead.

Ambassadorship is no longer a position reserved for elite citizens in the highest political echelons. It is a sacred responsibility that you and I hold in our hands every moment of every day. In this role, we are meant to build bridges – not burn them. We are called upon to use whatever influence we have to foster peace, not fuel violence.

In honor of Amb. Stevens, let us uphold that responsibility through the values we convey in our every online – and offline – interaction.

Kate Otto works with various aid organizations on international development projects. She is writing “Everyday Ambassador,” a book about the power of human relationships in enacting lasting social change, and how to preserve them in an increasingly digital world.

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