What All Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Have in Common
In December, I attended the Nobel Peace Prize festivities and interviewed some of the key people who run the Peace Prize. It was incredible to be attending the year that the unprecedented had occurred – three women had won the Nobel Peace Prize!
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and the first woman to ever head an African country; Leymah Gbowee (pronounced “Bo-wee”), an author and Liberian peace activist responsible for leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003; and Tawakkol Karman, a journalist and peace activist from Yemen and part of the Arab Spring uprisings — were all awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Tawakkol Karman was virtually unknown to the world before winning the Peace Prize and is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize (at age 32) and is the second Muslim woman and the first Arab woman to receive it in history. It was an amazing year to be there – especially as a woman, to say the least. If you didn’t see the highlights of our adventures in last week’s post about the Nobel Prizes in Stockholm, here’s that video again.
I didn’t have the opportunity to interview the Peace Prize Laureates one-on-one as I did the Nobel Laureates in Sweden, but I saw them speak numerous times in close quarters and was just blown away. These three women were all very different, from different generations, they each had very different personalities, and Tawakkol Karman was even from a different country and culture than the other two. But they had all been through so much — all are mothers, all have non-violently fought and still work for peace and human rights in their countries, and all have been imprisoned and are always at high risk for their work. They also all emanated a certain beautiful strength, confidence, openness, humility, and love. Perhaps one could muse that all those qualities together might equal peace. The women actually seemed to radiate and embody peace. I was quite moved by them constantly, not just by what they said, but by who they were, their essences.
Every event from the various press conferences, parties, and the photo exhibition opening at the Nobel Peace Centre, to the Peace Prize ceremony and closing event of the incredible high-end production of the Nobel Peace Prize Concert was emotional, empowering, and uplifting. I could go on and on about what I learned and the epiphanies that came out of this part of the inspiring adventure, but here are a few of the highlights, inspirational quotes from the Laureates speeches, and more interesting trivia about the Nobel Peace Prizes that you may not know about.
5 Epiphanies from Nobel Peace Prize Laureates
1.) Sex strikes work! Yes, that’s right, Sex Strikes. Leymah Gbowee was asked about the one she led in Liberia during one of the press conferences and responded that it was really most effective in more rural areas (where men brought their wives flowers when it was all over!), but it was extremely valuable in getting them media attention, which helped the peace movement.
2.) VISION and COURAGE are the distinct qualities of all Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Geir Lundestad has been the Director of the Nobel Institute and Nobel Peace Prize for 21 years, and he said all of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates during his tenure have been very different of course, but they all share these qualities of vision and courage. They all have a very clear sense of where they want to go with their work and what they want to accomplish in life. Most laureates have accomplished their work under very difficult circumstances. Many, including the 2011 Laureates, have been put in prison and work and live in life-threatening situations. You can experience for yourself the gregarious and delightful Mr. Lundestad talking about this below.
3.) The “3 H’s” of HONESTY, HARD WORK, and HUMILITY are guidelines for a great leader. When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was asked what describes her leadership, she replied she was guided by the “3 H’s”: Honesty, Hard Work and Humility. I met her later that evening and I could literally feel that from her when I stood in front of her and shook her hand.
4.) Love is all-powerful. We’ve all heard the line, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” But for Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman it’s “Behind a great woman, there’s a great man.” When we asked about Ms. Karman’s husband and family, we were told that her husband never leaves her side and is considerably older than her, and then we were told their story that gave us this interesting, deeper behind the scenes peek you might never know about. The couple has three children and they’ve been together for about 16 years. When they got together when she was still a teenager, she told him that she would always work for human rights, and he had to understand that. Obviously, he did, which leads to their love story that was really eye-opening and moving to me: Mr. Karman asked the photographer who was covering his wife for the Nobel Peace Center exhibit what he thought of him as a man. The photographer replied he greatly respected him and was inspired by him for standing by his wife the way he had, protecting and supporting her work. Mr. Karman was shocked at the photographer’s admiration. He said that no one in his country respected him and he had been ostracized for those very reasons. Because he, by all accounts, adores, respects and supports his wife, he has endured harassment and physical violence in his culture. In no small part due to her husband’s devotion and fierce love, protection, and forward-thinking, Tawakkol Karman has been able to accomplish what she has in their country. Behind this great woman, there’s a great man … and a great love story.
5.) “What am I doing to make this world a better place?” This is what I had to ask myself after celebrating what these women have accomplished and are accomplishing for peace and human rights and dignity for others, with so little resources compared to what we have available here. We are so incredibly fortunate and wealthy here in the US comparatively, especially as women. Those women have accomplished all that they have, with practically nothing compared to what we have in the way of rights, wealth, and basic necessities like reliable running water and electricity, much less sufficient enough peace in our streets that we really don’t have to worry about our children being killed or raped every day on their way to school. With so many more resources and opportunities on many levels than these women have had, I have to ask, “What can I do? How am I living my life? Am I living out of a place of love, peace, calm and strength? How am I serving? How am I helping?
I think I am going to be thinking of these things the rest of my life and about what these women have done and are still doing to fight for basic human rights and dignity for others in this world.
What are we doing?
How can we provide hope, strength and inspiration to others?
What can we all do to make the world a better place, just right where we are?
9 Quotes from the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates
If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.
~ Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
This prize is a tribute to peace, freedom and justice. It is a triumph not only of women, but of humanity.
Speak noble words and work noble deeds.
Future generations will judge us not by what we say, but what we do.
~Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
We all are members of one family. We are marching toward a new world – a world of globalization. I see the beginning of a new history full of love and fraternity.
Societies that exclude women from their conversations and decision-making are setting themselves up for failure.
~ Leymah Gbowee
If people don’t feel they have a stake in a society and in a future,
they will never have peace.
~ Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Be not afraid, my sisters, my daughters, my friends.
Find your voice.
~Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The new world means peace, which means love.
~ Tawakkol Karman
If you would like to learn more and see some beautiful videos about these women and their work, you can go HERE.
Some Nobel Prize Trivia You May Not Know
– Women have been awarded a Nobel Prize 44 times in total since the Prize’s inception in 1901 – the highest number being in the Peace category with 15 Laureates, which includes the 3 women from 2011. This is how it breaks down: Peace – 15; Literature – 12; Physiology or Medicine – 10; Chemistry – 4; Physics – 2; Economics – 1.
– Peace Prize nominees can only be nominated by “qualified nominators.” That list is HERE and includes government officials or members of academia in any country. So if you want to nominate someone but you aren’t a government official or a professor, you can get your U.S. representative or senator to do it for you! The nominations are closed after February every year and much deliberation and study of the nominees occurs to get the list down until they chose a Laureate or Laureates by September of that year. Laureates are announced every October.
– Bertha von Suttner was a dear friend of Alfred Nobel’s and was a pacifist who was very involved in the peace movement at the time. Some feel she may have been the love of Alfred’s life. He never married, but she did, not too long after they became friends. Many feel her influence played a big part in Nobel’s interest in pacifism and his creating the Peace Prize in his will. (Although ironically, he made the bulk of his fortune in dynamite, originally believing that having something as powerful as dynamite would help end war and violence. Instead it led to escalated acts of terrorism and war, and he reportedly was horrified by this.)
– The Nobel Peace Center only has 8 weeks to get the annual Nobel Peace Prize Laureate photo exhibit done, pulled together and on display before the Award Ceremonies happen. (The Center is must-see if you visit Oslo.)
– Each Nobel Peace Prize Laureate this year received $500,000. Each said the money would be going back to their countries and into their peace and humanitarian efforts. Sadly, it was just announced that the prize money will be reduced by 20% in 2012.
– The Nobel Peace Prize Concert is aired in over 100 countries (but not the US?) and always has major international talent hosting and performing. In years past, people like Anthony Hopkins and Oprah Winfrey have hosted. This year Helen Mirren and Rosario Dawson hosted and musical acts such as David Gray, Sugarland, Ellie Goulding and Evanescence performed. We loved the fact that it reminded us of one of our big award shows like the Grammys or the Academy Awards but instead of giving out awards, they were celebrating three brave women’s achievements in promoting peace and human rights in the world!
And finally, here is a short video of excerpts of some interviews about greatest life epiphanies from behind the scenes at the 2011 Nobel Peace Prizes in Oslo, Norway – one more adventure in continuing our exploration in talking to people all over the world…