Fresh Living

The world is still buzzing with this morning’s news that Barack Obama has won a Nobel Peace Prize. The first reactions, including the President’s, were of surprise. Then, of course, opinions: “he deserves it,” “he doesn’t deserve it,” “this cheapens the prize,” “this is an enlightened decision,” “this is the tolling of the apocalypse,” and so on.

In the midst of that opinion vortex, the President gave a quickly whipped up, humble speech about peace in the world. One that moved this Quaker-schooled, peace-loving blogger–even though I don’t really have an opinion on the “deserving” quotient.

He said, in part: “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize–men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace… And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action–a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

“…this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity–for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometimes their lives for the cause of peace.”

For a moment perhaps those of us–conservative and liberal–who sincerely would like to see more peace and less war, and not in a Miss America way, but in an MLK, Dalai Lama, Gandhi way–can drop the did-he-or-didn’t-he debate and remember this:

1) There is a prestigious global peace prize that has existed for more than 100 years. In our war-saturated world, this is a rare and beautiful thing.  

2) This incredibly controversial decision now has billions of people talking about what it means to earn a prize for peace. Yes, in the vitriol, real conversations about how to define peace–what it is, who creates it, and how–are happening at a level they absolutely would not have had this gone to a lesser known, lower-profile figure.

3) Who knows why they gave it to Obama, really. But to my peace-prone eyes, it looks like a message and a warning–a pre-emptive strike for peace. If there were more grown-up versions of the notes we passed in our silent meetings when I was kid, the one to Obama would say: “Don’t forget–you promised hope. Deliver. There’s so little time to dally we can’t even wait for you to accomplish grand-scale peace. So do us proud. Like five minutes ago. But, like, no pressure.” The one slipped to America: “Support him.” And to the world: “Give this dude a chance.” 

Like Obama’s campaign itself, this year the Nobel Peace Prize is a reminder to hope–no coincidence there. While we teeter on so many brinks as a human culture, as a planet, it’s exactly what we need.


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