When Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to her Japanese counterpart in the 7th century, she sent with them a desired impression of her nation.
A figure of gentleness and strength, the symbol of this gift spoke multitudes. The practice of ‘panda diplomacy’ prospered for centuries, from Empresses to Chairmen. Success stories span globally, with explicit requests arising from U.S. President Nixon to British PM Edward Heath in the 1970s. Clearly, this was a winner of a gift.
And the Valentine’s market has certainly picked up on the theme. For what gift inspires our feelings of warmth, endearment, and delight than a cuddly panda bear (albeit in a rather less alive form)?
In our heart of hearts, is this not a most desirable outcome (especially when certain calendar dates exacerbate expectations)? Though we may throw in the metaphorical hat on any prescription of romantic activity being constrained to a socially approved date, it is an undeniably simple pleasure to perk up a loved one’s day with a fitting token of appreciation. Moreover, this small act of ‘relationship diplomacy’ can lead to lasting benefits in partnerships we wish to maintain.
If you will allow a rather rudimentary, though arguably fitting, comparison of non-romantically inclined international relations (though I am not in a position of authority to rule this aspect out of diplomatic ventures) to relations of a more romantic kind, what can we learn from ‘panda diplomacy’?
I suggest three valuable take-aways for V-day gifts. The gift should:
- Be genuinely reflective of a part of ‘you’
- Guide your partners attention to your desirable characteristics
- Be proportionate to the state of the relationship
A live panda may work for a Chinese diplomat desiring to make a strong impression on a new ally, but may not work for an Australian university student desiring to make a gesture of appreciation to his long-term partner (if only for the logistical nightmare that is keeping a live panda in a small rental).
To maximize the results of a gift, tailor it by the three take-aways (even if that mean’s genuine ‘take-away’ for a nice night in). It need not be material, nor typically ‘cutesy’, if it hits all of these marks.
This should be seen as a lesson in thoughtful consideration of your relationship with your chosen partner, and not a tool whipped out in an emergency! Diplomatic gifts, in the spirit of Cialdini’s Reciprocity, can be crucial to maintaining long-term relationships. They remind our counterpart of their value and uniqueness in our mind. Their value should not be dismissed in the general interests of non-materialism or non-conformity (for they can be as quirky and inexpensive as the circumstance warrants).
Let this Valentine’s be the Launchpad of a consistent pattern of reflective appreciation for your partner. If your outcome is to maximize the long-term experience of your relationship, make ‘relationship diplomacy’ a consistent practice.
Go forth diplomats and find your panda!