Saturday, October 10, 2009

Premature Peace Prize — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Let me be clear, I'm a liberal. I lean so far left that there are days when I'm in danger of toppling over. I voted for Obama and think he's the best thing that has happened to this country in a long time. He makes me proud to be an American.

BUT, does he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? I don't know. My immediate response is probably not.

Obama has only been in office for nine months and inherited an outhouse overflowing with messy situations. I believe he's trying hard to address these issues, but that it has been more difficult than he may have initially thought. This is probably true for every president who has ever taken the oath of office; I know it's true of every parent. It's always harder to change things than you think.

I heard one pundit say that Obama was awarded the Peace Prize because he has put a new face on America's place in the world. Well, OK, I'll buy that. I wasn't too crazy about the last face we showed the world.

According to the Nobel Prize Foundation, Alfred Nobel established the Peace Prize more than 100 years ago to honor "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

In that light, it's hard for me to see that Obama is a deserving recipient. I did a little more research, however, and discovered a broader interpretation of how the prize is awarded in an article by Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, 1991-1999. He explains:

"The Prize, in other words, is not only for past achievement, although that is the most important criterion. The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account. Among the reasons for adding this as a criterion is the obvious point that Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act — which is also the reason why the choices so often stir up controversy."

I get that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize is a political act, intended to encourage actions that promote peace, not just to recognize achievements.

But as a parent, I worry about this particular choice. Upon hearing the news this morning, my 12-year-old son asked me what Obama had done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, and I was honestly at a loss. I tried to explain the reasonings as I understood them, but he put his finger right on the nose by responding that "those are things he's going to do, but he hasn't done them yet."

There is a great deal of controversy in the world of parenting about the dangers of overpraising our children and giving them trophies just for showing up. While we certainly want to promote healthy self esteem, research has shown that overpraising can actually have the opposite effect. So instead of telling my son that he's the greatest soccer player in the world (which he is not), I try to say things like: "That was a really good effort. Keep up the hard work."

My middle son is studying for his bar mitzvah in November. He went through a balky stage and I found that we were fighting about it all the time. I decided to try a different tack and offered to help him by establishing an incentive plan, where he could earn money toward a prize if he did the work every day with only a gentle reminder and no complaining. He thought that was a great idea, but wanted to know why he couldn't have the prize up front if he promised to work hard every day toward his goal. I explained that that would not be an incentive, it would be a bribe. As Chicagoans, we know that bribes are usually not very effective motivators. Once you have the prize, why should you do the work?

I'm not disparaging our president or his good intentions and efforts toward making this a more peaceful world. I did not expect him to be able to solve the complicated problems we face over night. But, we are still waging two wars in the Middle East. Guantanamo is still open.

So, what about this Nobel Peace Bribe? Right now, it feels a little like Obama got the trophy just for showing up. Then again, according to Woody Allen, "eighty percent of success is showing up." Let's hope that's the case and that being honored with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize motivates President Obama to evaluate every policy he pursues through the lens of peace, and that he uses it to help us all keep our eyes on the prize. And to President Obama, "Really good effort. Keep up the hard work."

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't encouraging presidents and future presidents with reasonable amounts of praise, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

1 comment:

Susan Bearman said...

Comments from the original Chicago Moms Blog post:

Rox said...

I'm with you; I'm a big fan of our President, but I can't escape the feeling that awarding him this prize now is more about putting a thumb in former President W's eye than it is about encouraging President Obama to continue to broker improved international relations. Now that the eyes of the world are laser-focused on him/us, I just hope that he does accomplish some things that are Peace Prize-worthy. When it comes to leadership on things like a no-nukes future and on climate change, I'm waiting for his rhetoric to catch up to his actions. I believe it will, but I'd have rather seen the prize awarded for those accomplishments rather than for "hope."

October 10, 2009 at 10:20 AM

Carolyn B. said...

I think of the Nobel Peace Prize as the highest honor given to someone who's legacy of peace is undisputed and everlasting. The 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu so clearly meet that criteria, so this is a bit of a disconnect for me. I voted for Obama, but couldn't help but hear the voices asking 'What has he really done?' Now I find myself asking that same question -- what has he really done? Is the award given for a person's potential to create peace between nations? This comes at a time when I'm wondering if Obama truly has the 'right stuff' to be at the helm. I say a prayer that he does. I hope the Norwegian Nobel Committee got it right.

October 10, 2009 at 10:26 AM

Melissa said...

I think the 'acceptance' speech President Obama gave was perfect. He handled it very well and appropriately.

That being said, it's his job to live up to the implied meaning of the award. That's why we hired him. So far, he his failing. I hope this gives him new inspiration to do a little less talking, a little less jet setting, and accomplish something. While I didn't agree with Bush either, at least he when he said something, things happened.

The time of apologizing and passifing the entire world in order to 'like us' again needs to stop, and he needs to become our President.

October 10, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Mike in A2 said...

Viscerally, I feel the same way, Susan. But for a pretty convincing view from the "yes, he does deserve it" side, see Rachal Maddow's opening bit from last Friday:

October 11, 2009 at 10:44 AM

melissa said...

i was shocked when i heard.
a little premature, i think. it will be interesting to see if he is able to earn it! i wouldn't want to have to live up to those expectations!
terrific post.

October 12, 2009 at 01:27 PM