The following is an excerpted chapter from my new book, Considerations. The book is made up of over 50 concise essays of this flavor on various topics.
We all serve as ambassadors for something, and in most cases we don’t even realize it.
“Why do you use that brand of computer?” someone might ask. Or, “What’s your city like?”
Whether you want the responsibility or not, you’re an ambassador for everything you do, have done, and believe. This may not be your perception of yourself and your relationship to these things, but to someone who is not you, the specifics matter very little. As someone who knows more than they do about a particular topic, belief, place, or whatever else, you’re the go-to person for expert information.
Remember that you needn’t share anything with people who ask about your choices or history or anything else. You aren’t a missionary, and if you opt out of proselytizing for whatever reason, you’re still in the right. If you carry a set of moral beliefs and don’t share them with others, you’re not doing an injustice to those moral beliefs. If you use a certain brand of phone and fail to tell those who use a different brand about why they’ve chosen an inferior path, you’re not failing to live up to the standards of your chosen brand.
But if you do choose to share, be careful how you approach it. To be an ambassador is to be a representative for this thing you’re championing, and that means your lifestyle, your actions, the words you use to describe it, all impact how everyone else sees this faith, product, or idea. If it’s a religion you’re sharing, you become an example of what people who follow this religion are like. If it’s a brand of clothing you wear, you are now the type of person who wears that type of clothing — at least to the people who see you wearing it.
I feel this ambassadorship weighing on my shoulders when I travel outside the US, because I know anything I do may be interpreted as ‘something an American did.’ Not just an action that I took as an individual, but an example of some greater cultural trait; some ‘American thing’ that expresses a more expansive norm.
Consequently, I go out of my way even more than usual to be kind and help people and be a good visitor wherever I end up. I like the idea that people might encounter me and extrapolate a larger impression — of my culture, my system of beliefs, of the brands I choose to associate myself with — in a good way. I hope people are better off for having met me, and as a result, might be more open to the things and people and ideas that I think are important.
This is not always possible, of course, but it’s an excellent course of action for someone who takes their ambassadorship seriously, whatever they might be representing, consciously or otherwise.
It’s important to note, too, especially if you walk an unconventional trail, or have blazed your own, people will sometimes want to have you as a guide. They’ll hope that, beyond just representing something, you might point them in the right direction, and help them navigate a trail you’ve created, or guide them down a path you’ve already walked.
Again, you don’t have to share anything. You can live your life and allow others to live theirs, unencumbered by active ambassadorship.
But if you do choose to help others along the way when they ask for such help, it can be immensely valuable for everyone involved. The interaction will be valuable for you, because you’ll live in a world in which more people understand your perspective, and it will be valuable for them because they may be able to go further, faster, as a result of your assistance.