When I woke my wife Friday morning to tell her the news that President Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace, her first reaction mirrored that of many: “For what?”
In an early morning speech Friday, Mr. Obama made clear, “I do not view [receiving this Prize] as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”
“To be honest,” Mr. Obama continued, “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… 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.”
He’s respectful, restrained and inclusive. He acknowledges the great work of those who have come before, and more importantly, recognizes this honor as a duty to provide both ambition and action to the objectives of peace for the entire world.
David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said, “…the Nobel Committee… indicated that they ‘attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.’
“There is no doubt,” Krieger said, “that Obama’s vision has brought new hope to this issue so critical for humanity’s future…
“President Obama drew attention to the dangers of nuclear proliferation ‘in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people.’ He indicated that this was the reason that America had ‘begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons.’ He could have, but did not, point with pride to his recent leadership at the United Nations Security Council resulting in a unanimous council resolution on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.”
Who does not want a world without nuclear weapons?
Who does not want a world of peace?
There is no pretending away the great conflicts that remain to be solved. We should not dismiss the hundreds of thousands who live and suffer under oppression. And none of us should ever forget the atrocities committed in the name of some holy crusade.
However, in a world with so much confrontation, so much strife, it’s easy to become cynical. It’s easy to focus on all the crime, scandal, and violence and believe that nothing we do will ever make a difference.
It’s far more difficult to hold onto ideals in the face of so much immorality and work, in whatever ways we can, to make a difference in the world.
I’m again reminded of what ethicist Michael Josephson says: “The fact is that many people do not live by the Golden Rule; they do not treat others fairly, honestly or with compassion. The challenge of an ethically-committed person is to overcome this fact of life and do what is right in spite of, maybe even because of, the failure of others to do so.”
That’s the challenge for all of us; not just religious leaders or political leaders, but each of us to demonstrate more compassion and responsibility to each other.
“And that is why,” Mr. Obama said, “I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”
I look forward to a time when there will be no Peace Prize because peace will already be at hand.