Iyer: What did Obama do?

Dear Norway,

I think we have to talk. Because, the other day, I saw you with President Barack Obama. You were giving him the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone saw it. CNN even screamed it. And, now, I just don’t know.

It’s not the question of Democrat and Republican. Those are issues we could work past. It’s a question of what makes you value and define someone, or something, as a leader. And, by giving this honor to Obama, you devalued both the meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize itself and its accompanying recognition and identification of a rare type of cherished leader.

People, of course, define leadership in many different ways, from someone who is directly in charge and command of others, to someone the Lost Boys would follow while in Neverland. A leader could be someone you want to be just like when you grow up! Or, you could discuss the legacy of a characterization of ideals fraught with new philosophical meaning just waiting to edify and bathe posterity. But, let’s aim for a middle ground.

A leader, in the manner that the Nobel Prize has always defined him or her to me, is someone who devotes large amounts of time and work toward forging new ground in their field that others can follow, learn from, and develop further. And, he or she often has done this with minimal expectation of personal reward. Granted, the Peace Prize is a little different. Al Gore was a relatively well-known figure, as was Jimmy Carter, and, sort of, Mother Theresa. But, I doubt Gore or Raj Pachauri had much direct personal gain out from their work to prevent the Earth from denigrating a few hundred years down the road. And, without needing to set up foundations to build more, Jimmy Carter probably had a habitat for his individual and familial humanity.

Let’s get back to Obama, though.

The rumor is that you started flirting with this idea on Feb. 1. I don’t mean to nag here, but what exactly had Obama done from Jan. 20 to Feb. 1? Said the oath of office? Outlined his plans for the country? Said the oath of office again? Prepared and prioritized his goals for his term?

Everyone has mainly been saying it’s about his asserted desire to eradicate the treat nuclear weapons pose to the world. And I get that. It’s a pretty attractive vow. I appreciate it and so do many others. But, a leader — the type of leader we’re talking about, the type you would award — should have done more than just declare an ideal by time they were recognized; a leader would have acted it on it.

It’s not Obama’s fault. He didn’t ask for the award, I’m assuming. And, he wasn’t really given a chance to do anything immediately to quickly bring about peace. It’s not him; it’s you.

At this point, though, if Obama declined the award it would be a sign that he is a real leader. His name would always be associated with it (likely, among many achievements). And such a gesture, while admittedly more symbolic than tangible, would nevertheless demonstrate an important, but oft forgotten leadership quality — knowing when there is more that must be done to reach a final goal, and that you have to work hard to help everyone achieve it.

Maybe in a few Peace Prizes’ time, you’ll have informed me and the rest of the world about lifelong humanitarians and activists, awarding them for their names, their aspirations and, most of all, for their actions. These are the leaders that your prize has always allowed us to admire, and who have inspired many generations. And I have faith you’ll be the one to recognize them.

Until then, maybe you could suggest to Obama that he use his award money to entertain and buy a beautiful non-nuclear, not-loaded cannon.

I think we could still be friends.

Serrena Iyer is a sophomore in Silliman College.

Editor’s Note: This column has been revised to reflect the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, not in Stockholm, Sweden, where all other Nobel Prizes are awarded.

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