A valuable reminder of the need for compromise
It's hard to see ourselves as others see us, but nothing is more instructive than the honest, unvarnished opinion of a friend. A politician who can't accept that is in the wrong game.
Dr Richard Haass is a friend of Northern Ireland who has taken a deep interest in our problems and given generously of his time, most recently on an unpaid basis. He was the DUP's choice to chair all-party talks, a staunch US Republican whose favourite recent President is George Bush senior.
Dr Haass has held top posts across the US foreign service - he is no callow American who doesn't know his facts - and he is an Anglophile, educated at Oxford. He is shortly taking up a post as Professor of Statecraft and Diplomacy.
The US diplolmat is hawkish on most issues, and when he came here last year unionists used to like to tell how understanding he was of their cause. He appreciated the significance of the Union flag to loyalists because of the role of the Stars and Stripes in building up a common sense of US identity.
Such ice-breakers are of limited value. If a party can't compromise on its starting position, sympathy for its concerns eventually starts to run thin. Yesterday Dr Haass told how his brother-in-law wondered why he was over here worrying about parades during his Christmas break.
Now it is up to our politicians, and not just the unionists, to show that they are part of the solution and not part of the problem. If not, they may not like their end of term report from Gary Hart, the new US envoy who is expected back here in the coming weeks.
We still have some goodwill, but it won't last indefinitely. Nobody will have much sympathy if our leading parties mess this new opportunity up.