It’s true. It was rescinded soon after, by E.C.G. Brandt, a member of Swedish parliament. Stalin, too, was nominated – twice – in 1945 and 1948. However, Gandhi, high priest of non-violence, never won, although he was nominated many times.
I wonder about awards in general and their purposes. Are they just meaningless arbiters of politics determined by the richest and most privileged? Are they meant to draw attention to an issue or project, to rev its momentum? Or does their importance come at the end, as a formal acknowledgement of effort, dedication and perseverance? Maybe they are just arrogant declarations of self-importance, at least until you do something foolish like nominate a genocidal madman. Blink and Outliers, asked after the 2009 winner was announced, “Is the goal of the Nobel Peace Prize committee to reward progress of an individual or to encourage the progress of society?”, author of
Maybe this venerable prize is a bow in recognition to humanity’s pursuit for the dignity of all of us. When Barack Obama won last year, what I learned about myself was revelatory. In some ways for the first time, I saw myself as a global citizen. Although I have traveled and lived abroad, including China, up until that time I defined myself foremost as an American, sometimes proudly and sometimes with weighty shame. I felt an affinity with many people I met along the way, yet I never realized the strong nationalistic perspective I wore like a second skin, despite not always agreeing with the administration. America is number one! – that was a given. The men who’ve led our country have all rung that bell, until it reverberated in our textbooks and movies and in the dreams of disadvantaged people around the globe.
While people around the country debated the merits of Obama’s new medal, my attention gradually turned inward. I stopped pushing up against the government and media fear-mongering. Although I was still mourning the loss of personal freedoms, I began to feel relief. I felt lighter and freer. I felt… safe. Anti-nuclear negotiations and signed peace treaties are undeniably significant, but they never changed how I walked in the world, how I carried myself. This did, however. Possibility expanded, optimism exploded, humility and a sense of civil responsibility took root. No longer was I going to live in the shadow of darkness and arrogance, although who among us doesn’t have fear or hatred somewhere along the spectrum from seed to sprout? We can’t deny the Hitler inside, any more than we can deny our inner Mother Teresa. Every emotion exists within us all; rather it’s the one we call upon in response to an injustice that defines us. Will we rise above? Or sink to our base tendencies? I’ve done both, and undoubtedly, so have you.
This year’s prizewinner, imprisoned Chinese dissident and longtime human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, has said, “The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason.” These are great and true words, but to stand in the face of oppression takes monumental courage and fortitude.
There are many ways to consider tyranny, for it is ever-present. It lies within ourselves – the tyranny of addiction; in our families – the tyranny of secrets and abuse; in our institutions – the tyranny of hierarchy, of exploitation. We are immersed in it. How will we navigate our escape from suffering? How can we take our cue from Liu Xiaobo? By remembering we are equally immersed in love, too.
At this week’s TedWomen Conference in Washington, D.C., a transforming and inspiring story was shared. Aicha El-Wafi and Phyliss Rodriguez, two mothers whose lives are forever intertwined told their tale of forgiveness – Ms. Rodriguez lost her son in the towers on 9/11, and Ms. El-Wafi’s son, whom she hasn’t seen since long before, was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the attacks, and is serving a life sentence. They met each other because of the tragedy, and formed a friendship in spite of it. That’s the transformative power of forgiveness. It liberates us, brings peace in place of strife.
It is not the first time forgiveness has overcome something so horrific, and it is but one of innumerable messages of peace in today’s otherwise dreary soundscape. Indeed, there are bulletins of hopefulness and reports of spiritual stamina in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles springing up in all corners of the world, even in the unlikeliest of places. By merely looking for them, you will find them everywhere – gaining in velocity and magnitude. You are an example yourself, for we all have the seeds of kindness and compassion germinating and blossoming, too.
I have pursued freedom my whole life, in all its forms. In fact, it has been in the driver’s seat most of the way. I am exceedingly fortunate that I live in a country and an era where I can do so, for at no other time in history would I be able to live my life as I choose. That there are still places in the world, in the United States, and in our very communities where the need for people like Muhammad Yunus, and Liu Xiaobo to sow their seeds of change means that we are all called to choose paths of forgiveness ~ paths of compassionate action ~ paths of tolerance and acceptance. Nothing less will do.
Together, we will define global culture. Our conscious responses to conflicts both large and small will move us forward, away from atrocities and trespasses and grudges. Understanding will replace fear. We will protect each other. We will all wear medals of peace.