Honing a BS Detector, Fostering Bilateral Ties: The Life of an Honorary Consul General
The Fletcher Forum recently sat down with Krista Bard, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as a Tufts graduate. She gave a talk at Fletcher, “Detecting Bullshit: Lessons from the Baltics, US Politics, Science & Psychology,” where she discussed how to weed through fake news narratives to strengthen our muscles of discernment. With the Forum, she elaborated on this and talked about her experiences as an honorary consul strengthening business, scientific and cultural ties between Pennsylvania and Lithuania.
Fletcher Forum: First, let’s talk a bit about what you do. What are some of the initiatives that the Lithuanian consulate is undertaking to foster cultural and scientific ties between the two countries?
Krista Bard: A bit of background: the Lithuanian Embassy, like all embassies, is in DC and then every country has a different number of consulates. Lithuania has a general consul–a career officer–in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. There are also about two dozen honorary consuls, and then three honorary consul generals.
Really, the title is a thank you for the amount of work I’m doing. I appreciate it. As honorary consuls, we really have more leeway to self-determine our projects, but then going back to the embassy, double-checking if our plans are okay, and sometimes checking in with the US Embassy in Vilnius as well.
In 2013, I organized the largest Lithuanian festival since the 1939 World’s Fair. We had two dozen events, and there were two anchors. One was the first Lithuanian-American-Jewish symposium in the U.S.. I brought together the Israeli Embassy and the American Jewish Committee. We held it at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. The second anchor was bringing two-dozen Lithuanian artists for the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, an event that drew nearly 20,000 attendees. I’m now working with a Philadelphia-based Lithuanian artist on building another Holocaust memorial.
In science, we’re working on some university exchanges and some MOU’s between different Lithuanian and Pennsylvanian universities, particularly in the life sciences. Things haven’t been finalized, but it’s very exciting. Philadelphia is known for education and medicine, but they also coined the term “Cellacon Valley” because they have several companies doing work in genetics.
Pennsylvania also has a federally mandated relationship which, for 25 years, has been centered around the Pennsylvania National Guard training Lithuanian troops.
In business, there is a major Lithuanian manufacturer that is considering coming to Pennsylvania and building a plant. We’re talking 400 jobs. It made sense for Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Community and Economic Development and his Director of International Business Development to visit the Baltics. I felt it was important to organize this trip and see what other relationships we can develop. We also held export workshops to assist Lithuania in entering the U.S. market.
FF: Can you tell us, in one or two sentences, what you mean by “detecting bullshit” in the media, based on your experience?
KB: Individually, we are now all called upon to educate ourselves more and to learn how to develop the muscle of discernment by finding and verifying trusted sources, and then also to cross-train or cross-read.
FF: During your talk, you mentioned that in times of great chaos there’s also a lot of opportunities. Can you talk about some of the opportunities from the perspective of diplomacy and for students?
KB: There’s the Chinese blessing and curse, “May you live in interesting times,” and we’re in interesting times right now. It can be scary. It may take a decade to move forward but I think that we will have a stronger grounding in interpersonal relationships, in dialogue, and in problem solving.
FF: You mentioned in your talk about the reason some analysts like Michael Lissack use to explain why Trump, and other populist politicians perhaps, has been so successful. Their language is vague so you can sort of attach any meaning you want to what they say. How can politicians be more specific in their discourse and still be able to attract a plurality of voters?
KB: I think Trump is being honest. Some people have criticized him for the way he speaks. Other people have lauded him because he says things in understandable language. Are you trying to communicate and reach people or are you trying to show people how intelligent you are?
FF: Could be a lesson learned from Trump, in that sense, but do you think that it’s the message itself that arguably people are--or should--be voting on?
KB: The manner in which he speaks is unorthodox in American politics. It is something that we are not used to. We’ve been listening through a certain kind of filter and with expectations thatwe now have to adjust. We went from “good”, “bad”, “wrong” to a political correctness, and the concept that anyone who was not politically correct is deplorable. That was a huge mistake. So, Hillary Clinton may be really intelligent, but holding people who disagree with you as deplorable doesn’t work as a leader. Language, particularly this one word, conveyed the message and embodied the campaign.
FF: Do you think that there is a failure among people like Clinton who are not as skilled at communicating in a way that really gets through to people, and that Trump is better at this? Or do you think people are generally attracted to the ideology that Trump and other populist leaders have been bringing to the fore?
KB: There isn’t a simple answer. I’m in a place of questioning right now, so when you say, “are people really for Trump’s ideology?” I don’t know that his ideology is really understood or correctly being presented or reported on.
FF: Looking back at your younger self, what were some of the things you would’ve liked to wish you had known, let’s say, or wish someone had told you as you started your career?
KB: Back then, I was really very concerned about choosing my major and making a decision. And then Buckminster Fuller gave a lecture here and he talked about linear thinking versus circular thinking. I realized that some people have linear careers and some people have circular careers! Follow your heart and don’t fret.
The other thing too is that I was here when women’s liberation was first taking hold. They pooh-poohed people who had children. I ended up having a career first and then getting married and having a child. Having a child and being a parent is the best thing I’ve done in my life.
FF: As a diplomat, what is one suggestion that you would want to pass on to graduate students as they embark on their journey in international affairs?
KB: A suggestion for students in dealing with people of different backgrounds–strive less for agreement and strive more for understanding. Listen more than you talk.
FF: How do you seek out opposing viewpoints and prevent yourself from kind of going full steam ahead on a track that’s comfortable?
KB: You’ve got to be conscious and aware of other points of view. You may, at times, need what is called a “safe space” where there is no disagreement or difference of opinions. But if you want to solve the big problems in the world, you have to get out of that space and actively engage with people who have different points of view.
FF: Thank you for your time, Krista Bard.
Image: Nico Trinkhaus, Vilnius Castle, Vilnius, Lithuania / CC by NC
Krista Butvydas Bard has since 2010 served as Honorary Consul, and since 2016, as Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Bard founded an award-winning marketing consultancy in 1985, working for 25 years with Fortune 500 companies, SMEs and organizations in diverse industry sectors. She served for ten years as President of Philadelphia’s small business association, designing programs to support business development and civic engagement for over 400 companies.