4 Tranquil Lessons from the Last Six Individual Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Jordan Gross

Don’t allow hedonic temptations to disrupt peaceful efforts.


I was once watching the Miss Universe pageant competition, and when asked what she was going to fight for if given the crown, one of the contestants responded with, “world peace.” It was a brilliant and candid reply, but it seemed so far-fetched. With all of the war, unrest, and tension surrounding the countries and people around the world, it was hard to fathom that so many people could desire world peace, yet we are still so far from it.

This stretched my curiosity one step further and allowed me to think of the people who are fighting day in and day out to bring peace to the forefront: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. And taking it one step further than this, I was eager to learn what about their individual mindsets led them to desire such a state of tranquility within the world and how and why they got to this conclusion.

Quite often, when you deal with macro issues like national civil unrest, sexual violence, and access to universal education, it can be challenging to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But, by bringing these conflicts to a more micro level by analyzing the leaders at the front lines of these movements, it opens your eyes to some revealing lessons about how we should view the world and the responsibility we have within it.

The following are individual Nobel Peace Prize winners from 2019, 2018, 2016, and 2014. In 2020, 2017, and 2015, organizations were delivered the top honor. In 2018 and 2014, two individuals working together shared the prize. By studying the lectures these individuals delivered upon receiving their awards, it is clear the message they were trying to share about why peace and tranquility is so important in our lives.

The Dream of Peace Must Overcome the Nightmare of War

For two decades, Ethiopia and Eritrea, two African nations, have been at odds over border concerns following a long bloody war. The threat of further warfare plagued the two nations, and it was not until Abiy Ahmed Ali, the 44-year-old Prime Minister of Ethiopia came along that tensions finally subsided and peace endured. For his decisive action to end the border conflict with Eritrea, Ali was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

During his acceptance lecture, he shared a bit about his own background and experience with war and peace. He revealed,

“I crawled my way to peace through the dusty trenches of war years ago. I was a young soldier when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea. I witnessed firsthand the ugliness of war in frontline battles. There are those who have never seen war but glorify and romanticize it. They have not seen the fear. They have not seen the fatigue. They have not seen the destruction or heartbreak, nor have they felt the mournful emptiness of war after the carnage. War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back. I have seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield. I have seen older men, women, and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells. You see, I was not only a combatant in war. I was also a witness to its cruelty and what it can do to people. War makes for bitter men. Heartless and savage men.”

I share this longer quote in its entirety because of its tremendous power. Coming from a man who has seen war firsthand, he cannot highlight enough the intense severity of the experience. It was because of this that he believed that, “the imaginary wall separating our two countries for much too long needed to be torn down. And in its place, a bridge of friendship, collaboration and goodwill has to be built to last for ages.”

In your own life, in order to land on inner peace, you must first overcome your battles with whatever life throws your way. View your negative thoughts like the disputes that are endangering your mind. In order to overcome them, like many psychologists recommend, you must first understand and be open to all thoughts and realize you can conquer them, choosing the ones that serve you best.

Don’t Allow Hedonic Temptations to Disrupt Peace

“I come from one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet the people of my country are among the poorest of the world. The troubling reality is that the abundance of our natural resources — gold, coltan, cobalt and other strategic minerals — is the root cause of war, extreme violence and abject poverty.”

Denis Mukwege began his 2018 Nobel Prize lecture in this way. He wanted to highlight the danger of human pleasures, and how placing too much of an emphasis on more and more material and sensual desires can lead to dangerously negative and harmful implications. This mindset, one that fights desire as a hindrance to peace, forced him into similar work that his co-recipient does, Nadia Murad.

Murad is still in her twenties, yet she has lived many many lives. From Iraq originally, she was part of a slaughter that killed 600 members of her community. After the attack, Nadia was taken as a prisoner, where she was forced to perform sexual acts for members of the deadly militia. Fortunately, she was able to escape to Germany where she now resides and works to help young women and children who were victims of abuse and human trafficking.

According to Buddhist principles, the “monkey mind” is one that gives in to basic human instincts. It’s one that is restless, confused, and acts on impulse, drawn in by pleasures such as shiny material objects or acts like sex. You must fight the urge to let your monkey mind take over. By deploying your “monk mind” instead, one that is more mindful and adherent with principles of peace, you will be better able to make decisions that best impact your mind as well as others.

It is More Difficult to Make Peace than War, But What is More Difficult is More Rewarding

Juan Manuel Santos has waged both war and peace. As the President of Colombia from 2010 to 2018, he served while his country was at the tail end of a 50-year period of civil unrest. That period ended thanks to him. In 2016, he was the sole recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in reaching a ceasefire agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas.

When Santos assumed the presidency in 2010, he had come from a security background, focused on private matters. So, in his inaugural address when he revealed he would be seeking peace through open dialogue with a willing counterpart, people were pleasantly surprised. He argued for peace for six years, through tough, complex negotiations with the FARC that “required chess skills and steely determination.” It would have been much easier to continue fighting and to win using brute force, but Santos knew this was not best.

His experience is summed up in one of his most famous quotes. “It is far more difficult to make peace than it is to wage war, I know it because I have done both.” But Santos did what many would not even consider trying because it just seemed too difficult. He convinced violent guerillas to trade their weapons for ballots so that Colombia could move forward toward its highest potential. This must be your mindset. When things seem dubious, choose what leads you to your highest potential. Even if it is the more difficult option, it can prove to be most rewarding in the end.

Peace Begins Early

Malala Yousafzai and Kailish Satyarthi shared The Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” Malala’s story is known around the world, surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban for her pursuit to provide young girls in Pakistan access to education. But her interest in peace and equanimity began much earlier than that.

Malala developed a thirst for knowledge at a very young age. According to her Nobel laureate page, for years her father, a passionate education advocate himself, ran a learning institution in the city, and school was a big part of Malala’s family. She later wrote that her father told her stories about how she would toddle into classes even before she could talk and acted as if she were the teacher. She had a desire to share her beliefs with the world from the moment she could speak.

During her lecture at the 2014 Nobel Prize ceremony, she delivered the following powerful statement. “I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.” The youngest ever Nobel laureate at only 17-years old, she believed that she needed to share with the world what happens to so many young women, because only then could they begin to rebuild their lives and lawmakers could make changes that would serve them best.

As she concludes her speech, she strongly declares, “Let’s begin this ending now” referring to the marginalization of young girls and their denial of education. This is Malala’s most important message about peace. It must start early. It mustn’t wait. Peace can begin in the here and now, and it is our duty to make that a reality both with society and ourselves.

Final Words

These leaders found the courage to become inspirations for the entire world. They stood up for what they believed in and they acted on their deepest desires. They are steadfast in their fight for world peace.

As these people work each day for this seemingly insurmountable feat, they must themselves display attitudes of internal peace, to not get bogged down by frustration. Fighting for something that seems so obvious and morally right must get frustrating from time to time. But by doing what is most difficult, starting early, overcoming hedonic temptations, and overcoming various challenges, peace can be all the more attainable. Both externally and internally.

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