Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

The criticism of Obama's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is that he hasn't done anything yet to deserve it. This is truly laughable, especially when it comes from a buffoon like Rush Limbaugh who said that all Obama has ever done is make speeches. And what, exactly, has Rush Limbaugh ever done except talk?

One of the stupidest adages ever spoken is "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me." The three ribs and collar bone that were broken when a truck hit my car eight years ago have healed, but words my mother said to me sixty years ago continue to hurt. Words are not "just" words; words are actions. All Adolf Hitler did was use words, and those to whom the words were spoken took them into their souls, and the consequences haunt us still.

In 1940, a small booklet was published called "Words and Their Meaning." The author was Aldous Huxley, and the following is from that booklet:

"We talk about 'mere matters of words' in a tone which implies that we regard words as things beneath the notice of a serious-minded person.

"This is a most unfortunate attitude. For the fact is that words play an enormous part in our lives and are therefore deserving of the closest study. The old idea that words possess magical powers is false; but its falsity is the distortion of a very important truth. Words do have a magical effect....Words are magical in the way they effect the minds of those who use them, 'A mere matter of words,' we say contemptuously, forgetting that words have power to mould men's thinking, to canalize their feeling, to direct their willing and acting. Conduct and character are largely determined by the nature of the words we currently us to discuss ourselves and the world around us.The magician is a man who observes that words have an almost miraculous effect on human behavior...."

The Nobel Peace Prize committee bestowed the prize on President Obama because his words reveal a respect for others, that his words are inclusive of humanity, his words are a profound change from the intemperate words of those who believe that government is not the solution but the problem. President Obama's words speak to the best that is in us, even the best in those whose words call for his death.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee was not premature in bestowing this prize on President Obama. They wanted not only to acknowledge the impact his words have had around the world, but perhaps the committee also wanted us to value the power of words to make change, and, specifically to be cognizant of how much this president has already accomplished by his words.

© 2009 Julius Lester