If the Facebook newsfeed is any gauge of public opinion, even thoughtful Obama voters are left scratching their heads at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize decision.
When the wake-up news from my clock radio told me of the Peace Prize announcement, I uncharacteristically bolted straight up to make sure I was hearing correctly, and not in my usual merging of dreamland with morning news headlines.
Once I realized it wasn’t a dream, I could almost immediately hear the pitch of those Americans-who-hate-Obama-more-than-they-love-America, the kind who applauded in glee when Chicago lost the Olympic bid (not because they cheered for Rio) or drew Hitler mustaches on the Commander-in-Chief. Were they going to make kabob out of him? If the world loves him, does that mean they will hate him more? It must be a sign of too much media ingestion that I thought of those vociferous opinionators, before I considered my OWN thoughts on the matter. I also hadn’t had my coffee yet.
Those Nobel folks are smart, so what were they thinking?
“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said in its citation. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”
Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway, declared “We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year.”… “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
“We have to get the world on the right track again” … “Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions.”
The last sitting American president to win the prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. He has been mocked for what is considered his “failure” of the League of Nations. But this began a process that at a minimum, got the world’s nations to sit down and talk to each other, and formed what would become the United Nations. And yes, it’s a flawed institution, but it’s the best we’ve got. And have you noticed some of the amazing work that has come out of the U.N.? This is a bit of a raw point for me – after 25 years. I was asked at a competitive college scholarship interview, “who is a figure in American history that you most admire?” I was completely unprepared for this question and blurted out “Woodrow Wilson,” for the reasons cited here. See, I always was a peace-nik. I literally watched the previously smiling committee members squirm and jot down “No,” or write “X,” before they escorted me out of the room, and I never heard from them again.
This year’s Peace Prize, like so many of the previous winners, represents something much bigger than the man. (Do you remember anything about the 2008 winner, Finland’s Martti Ahtisaari?) It goes back to hope, an imperative that we must have peace in the world, and we need to focus on the qualities that can get us there. Confrontational approaches to international relations are giving way to a reality that our strength comes from cooperation; that big problems like climate change can’t be neatly solved alone, within national boundaries, and we won’t earn respect by bullying others. Future leaders – our children – can start learning these lessons on the playground or at the dinner table. How you treat others, the conversations you have, and your comfort with those that are different than you can form the building blocks of a wider, global vision. Fun, experiential discoveries in our neighborhoods and cities can connect us with the world, whether it’s engaging in various arts or sports, testing new cuisines, or films or languages or ideas, with new friends from many different backgrounds. We can teach our children that any face can be the face of leadership, of peace and promise – even theirs. The world just reached out with a hand of friendship – how will we accept it, and what will we learn from it?