I have often mused about being an outsider , and most (though not all) of these posts have reflected on the isolation that often comes when one feels on the outside, even if one works very hard to connect other people together. Today, though, I read a book  about the relationship between the United States and the nations of East and Southeast Asia that demonstrated that American hegemony in the Western Pacific in the post-WWII world was tolerated precisely because the United States was an outsider. It was precisely because the United States had quickly given up its imperialistic desires for territory (with the independence of the Philippines in 1946) and because it had established a reputation for consistently seeking open freedom of the seas for the well-being of everyone since the mid 1800’s in Japan and the Hay Doctrine in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to the present day, showing itself an honest broker for peace for more than a century. This is not to say that the United States has been perfect in its role as global hegemon, but that it has behaved with considerable honor as well as a devotion to moral standards that have served the interests of others and not only itself. The fact that America’s dominance depended in large part on its role as an honest and honorable power with a devotion to openness whose vulnerability required the permission of others for that power to be exercised for the benefit of all made it a far more acceptable hegemon than a nation like China with its history of seeking to dominate others.
It was hard not to see this insight as an explanation for one of my own persistent strategic problems, and that is the nature of building trust as an outsider. Of course, just as the United States is an outsider who pursues friendly and mutually beneficial trade and security relationships and friendly diplomacy with others, so too is the case for me. Simply because one is an outsider does not imply that one is isolated, but rather that one’s home territory is far away from one’s involvement in a given area, which is certainly the case for me in my life at present. Likewise, the way that the United States has behaved as an outside power in the Asia-Pacific Region is the way that I have instinctively behaved in my own life, with a commitment to being just and fair and honorable in my conduct, friendly to all, and committed to openness and transparency in the pursuit of my aims with the goal of building trust with locals despite the differences in approach and perspective. Given that trust is a deep problem in my own life, it seems striking that I would pursue the sort of strategy that is the characteristic way that an outsider builds trust–through open candor combined with a sensitivity to the well-being and interests and concerns of all, be they young or old, big or small. I suppose I am a true American after all, even in the way that I have turned being an outsider into an advantageous position at times in dealing with my own longstanding struggles.
It is striking at all that this particular solution appears to relate as well to the biblical command for us to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15-16), citizens of the Jerusalem above (Philippians 3:20). In other words, we are supposed to be outsiders here, involved and responsible and concerned for the well-being and interests of others (as well as ourselves), but whose main attention and identity is to be from another place. Likewise, we too are supposed to be concerned with the weightier matters such as justice and mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23, Micah 6:8). Just as Joseph, Mordacai, and Daniel (to give but three examples) rose to great authority even in corrupt heathen realms through their commitment to honorable behavior and responsibility combined with an outsider status that kept them from being the pawns of corrupt local political elites, so too our outsider status in this world can be an advantage in being able to serve responsibly those realms and institutions whose leaders desire character and integrity more than corrupt crony politics. This may be uncommon, but it is no less treasured when such honorable leadership may be found.
How is it that an outsider builds trust? In all of these cases, there is a commitment to openness, with the understanding that in the absence of having a long history, that it is essential that others know you are acting according to principles and without hidden agendas. Likewise, a commitment to honorable conduct as well and service and good behavior tend to build goodwill with others. Additionally, being an outsider of ability and honorable conduct often leads to great responsibility because of the advantages of being an outsider, like not having an established power base within a given area that would destabilize the well-being of the institution or society as a whole, whose power is reliant on others and not a source of potential vulnerability. Sometimes it is worthwhile and comforting to realize the perks of being an outsider. After all, if that is what one is, one needs to make the best of it, both for ourselves and for those around us.
 See, for example: