Peace is something that we all say we want, but few of us actually possess. What makes peace so elusive? Perhaps peace eludes us because we do not understand what it is or we do not chase it with the same fervor as our other goals. In this article, I’ve invited four female winners of the Nobel Peace Prize to teach us what they know about peace. From closely observing their lives, we learn how we too can become women of peace.
There are nine women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. For the sake of brevity, I’ve only presented four of these award winning women here. They come from various nationalities, religious traditions, and socio-economic statuses. Yet, each of these women distinguished themselves by living a life dedicated to peace. There example encourages others to do the same.
Mother Theresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Born into an Albanian Roman Catholic family in Yugoslavia, she felt called as a teenager to a life of service to the poor and disenfranchised. At the age of 18 Mother Theresa left her family and country to live a life of service in Calcutta, India. She worked with people who were not of her race, religion or nationality. Mother Theresa committed herself to working with the poorest of the poor. She established a new order, Missionaries of Charity, to do precisely that. Missionaries of Charity soon spread to many other countries. This order mobilizes thousands of people around the world to join Mother Theresa in her mission of peace.
Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Jane Addams was born in the suburbs of Chicago to an affluent and privileged family. Addams is known as one of the founding mothers of sociology and social work. Although she considered herself a sociologist, Addams chided the profession of sociology for its elitism and sexism. She advocated a vision of academic knowledge used in the service of society. She wanted sociology to solve some of our world’s most pressing problems, such as poverty and war. Addams was a lead advocate on both these issues.
Addams founded the country’s first settlement house: Hull House. Hull House provided comprehensive community based services to low-income and immigrant families in Chicago. Hull house became the model for social service delivery across the country and around the world. Addams also regularly lectured on peace and the need to end war in this world. She served as the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom for a decade. Through her teaching, writing, and organizations, Addams embodied the virtue of peace and encouraged others to do the same.
Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991; but she could not be present to accept it because she was imprisoned by the military dictatorship of what is now Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned for her leadership role in a peaceful, non-violent, social movement for the liberation of her nation of Burma. She modeled her life of peace based on the tactics of Gandhi and her father Aung San who was also a leader in the liberation struggle. Aung San Suu Kyi continued their legacy of peace, holding tight to the principles of democracy, respect for human rights, reconciliation between groups, non-violence, and personal and collective discipline.
In 1992, The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchu Tum “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethnocultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.” Tum is a Mayan Indian born in Guatemala. Military soldier murdered her mother and brother and burned down the building where her father and his compatriots were gathered in peaceful protest. This pervasive regime of state sanctioned violence led Tum’s remaining sisters to join the guerrilla resistance force. Yet, Tum remained steadfast in her commitment to nonviolent resistance.
Even when personally confronted with such brutal violence, Rigoberta Tum refused to perpetuate that cycle. The chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee describes Tum as “the shining individual examples of people who manage to preserve their humanity in brutal and violent surroundings, of persons who for that very reason compel our special respect and admiration. Such people give us a hope that there are ways out of the vicious circle.”
So what do these women of peace have in common? What do these patterns tell us about the necessary components of peace?
These women shared a unshakable believe that the world should and could be better than it was in the present. They believed in the intrinsic value of human life and worked diligently to preserve that life. It did not matter if the life represented a gender, racial, ethnic, religious, political group different than their own. Their commitment to peace required these women to challenge the social, economic, and political systems threatening the well being and security of others. This shared faith in the value and dignity of humanity comes from a variety of different religious traditions as well as secular humanism. The virtue of peace itself models the common brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity. It is only once we realize this that we can ever posses peace.
These women did not have easy lives. Their commitment to peace cost them dearly. Sometimes it costs them their freedom and security. For others it costs them their personal and professional relationships and social standing. Many of the women who won the Nobel Prize were unable to make it to the presentation ceremony because of exile, imprisonment, or deteriorating health. These women had given their all in the service of others and we continue today to reap the benefits of their labor.
These women worked diligently for peace in the face of strong opposition. They did this because they believed that their goal would eventually be realized. Their faith in evident in their clear resolution to struggle against odds, to withstand various disappointments and defeats, and to never to give up. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes about this type of faith when he encourages his fellow believes to do all that they can and then to stand. Stand in the confidence that God is standing with you and is working to bring about the peace you seek. Although the women of peace presented here come from various religious traditions, they each demonstrated great, unshakable faith.
It is precisely that unshakable faith that gave these women the courage to act in such dangerous times. It took great courage for Aung San Suu Kyi and Rigoberta Menchú Tum to stand up to the soldiers who threatened them. It took courage Mother Theresa to commit to living the rest of her life in a foreign land with people who did not share her culture, religion, ethnicity, or social standing. Jane Addams demonstrated great courage in her decision to commit all her talents and resources in solving a problem that most people thought of as “the natural way of things.”
We honor these women of peace because they symbolize the best in us. They are ordinary women who have done extraordinary things. They show us the beautiful and powerful pieces of ourselves that may have been forgotten or overlooked. So how can we use their legacy to help us practice lives of peace?
It does not matter if others agree with or can see your vision. Women of peace have learned how to focus in on their vision of the beauty and dignity of life, in spite of the brutality that surrounds them. They know that even if others may be living according to such base motivations, there is an underlying reality that is more beautiful and more true. This vision fuels their actions and empowers them to create the world they already see within.
You too possess this creative power. Whatever you focus on will direct your behavior and magnify its presence in your life and in our world. It requires effort to see beauty in the midst of brutality. The fact that others do reminds us that this too is our choice. The lives and legacy of these women of peace show us that this is also the most effective choice. As Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Hate can never drive out hate; only love can do that.”
You have the power to choose your vision. What do you see?
You do not create the life you seek by merely wishing it. It requires consistent and sustained action. We learn from the lives of these women that peace is not a passive attribute. Peace requires action. We create peace for ourselves and others based on the choices that we make each day.
Many times the choice for peace is the more difficult choice. It is easier to go with the flow and model what everyone else is doing. But everyone else does not have peace. They do not see your vision of life as it can be. Thus, they need you to show what is possible. Our world needs for you to “bring peace” with you so that we can see a better vision of life as it can be.
The fact that others don’t already see your vision means that you will need faith to carry it through to reality. Your faith in your vision, yourself, and the righteousness of your cause empowers you to stand in the face of opposition. Whether that faith is grounded in a specific religious tradition, a more general spirituality, or a secular humanism, your faith ensures your victory.
Most people do not believe that peace is possible. I see this in the political discussions of nations eager to go to war. I see our eye for an eye thinking in the street code of violence or public discussions about the death penalty. I see the lack of faith in peace in our tolerance of poverty and injustice. While we might say that we want peace, most of us think of it more like a children’s fairytale or Santa Claus.
But there are some of us who believe in the practical reality of peace. Like these Nobel Peace Prize winners, we know that peace is not just a way, but the only way to ensure our individual and collective well-being and survival. If you share this faith, guard it dearly. Protect it against the cynicism, fear, and apathy that would try to undermine your vision. Faith is the bullet proof vest that you can use to protect your vision for peace.
Courage does not mean fearless. Courage is the ability to act in the face of your fears. Courage empowers you to follow your internal compass when it leads you on a path different from those around you.
These women of peace were also women of courage . There vision of what should be inspired them to act courageously in the face of the world as it was. Their courageous action inspired others to do the same. Your individual actions posses that same power to enact change and to inspire others to do the same.
There’s no need to wait for someone to say or do something about this situation. You are here. Stop waiting, step into your vision, and act courageously. Others will be blessed by your example.
I’d love collecting stories of inspirational women; some famous and some unknown. Please share believe your personal role models of peace. You might also like to post quotes or resources that help you to live a life of peace. Thank you for demonstrating the faith, hard work, and courage that it takes to make your vision a reality!
Courage is a character trait that is rarely associated with women because we are socialized to be overly cautious and perfect. In her inspirational Ted talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”, Reshma Saujani describes the damage that is done to individual women and our society as a whole by socializing women to be overly cautious. She recounts an HP report that shows that men will apply for jobs if they meet 60% of the qualification criteria, but women will not apply unless they meet 100% of the qualification criteria. That difference creates significant gender differences in the career trajectories and incomes of men and women. In addition to limiting the career potential of women, this over cautiousness also limits their family’s earnings as well as the growth of our national economy. As Saujani states, “ our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect”. This illustrates the deep connection between our personal development and collective development on a local, national, and global level. The world is significantly improved by you developing yourself and your abilities Click & Tweet! .
So how do we correct our national deficit in bravery? Reshma Saujani suggests that “we have to show [women] that they will be loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous…. women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.” In response to Saujani’s call to action, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to 12 courageous women who gave up the pressure to be perfect in pursuit of being their fully authentic selves in the world. Through their courageous choices, these women made the world a better place for themselves and for us all.
It took courage for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer to attempt to register to vote in rural Mississippi in 1962. Her act of bravery resulted in her being fired from her job as a sharecropper and her and her husband losing their home. Rather than see these negative results as a reason not to take a stand, Mrs. Hamer became even more resolute in her commitment to courageously pursuing freedom for herself and her people. Thank you Mrs. Hamer for your courage to stand up for justice regardless of the personal costs.
It took courage for Arianna Huffington, an ambitious entrepreneur and founder of The Huffington Post, to redefine success for herself. Although her personal definition of success conflicted with larger cultural expectations, Huffington reorganized her life according to her priorities. In her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder, Huffington describes the risks involved in rejecting the culture of the rat race and prioritizing sleep, family, and generosity. Arianna Huffington courageously refused to sacrifice personal and family well-being in pursuit of an external definition of success. Thank you Arianna Huffington for your courage to form your own definition of success and for encouraging us to do this for ourselves.
It took courage for Jillian Mercado, a woman with muscular dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair, to submit her photo and letter for an open casting call to model for Diesel jeans. She risked rejection, ridicule and destroying her lifelong dream of working in the fashion industry. Jillian Mercado’s courageous act has created modeling opportunities for herself and for other individuals who aren’t typically including in fashion. Mercado states “I kind of took it on as a challenge to make sure that I represented all those girls that didn’t see themselves in the industry.” Thank you for Jillian Mercado for your courageous act to show your unique beauty and creating a more inclusive space for us to do the same.
It took courage for Robin Emmons to leave a 20-year career in corporate finance to nurture herself, her family, and her nation. After placing her brother in a mental health facility, she witnessed first hand the damage that is caused by regular consumption of unhealthy food. Emmons bravely dedicated herself to providing fresh produce to individuals and communities that have limited access to healthy food. Through her courageous act of founding Sow Much Good to address head on the systematic injustices creating food deserts and poor health outcomes in working poor and minority communities, Robin Emmons has provided thousands of people who are food insecure with the opportunity to have quality nutritious food to promote their health and well-being. Every time I eat a fresh delicious apple, I think of Robin and thank her for her courage to propose new strategies to solve our pressing social problems.
It took courage for Adrienne Rich to refuse the National Medal of Arts in 1997 because she disagreed with the politics of the White House administration. She risked public shaming and the end of her career as a beloved poet. Yet, Rich was brave enough to protect her personal integrity even at the loss of public support. Thank you Adrienne Rich for producing years of courageous social justice poetry and for showing those words in action in your own life.
It took tremendous courage for Cynthia Cooper to publicize the fraud of WorldCom, a company in which she was the Vice President. Her career and professional reputation was on the line and it would have been easier to ignore the fraud that she discovered in her internal audits. Yet, Copper’s bravery protected the financial security of many Americans who were being tricked by the telephone company’s misrepresentation of their financial status. Cooper received a public thank you for her bravery in 2002 when she was named by Time magazine as one of the “People of the Year”. Thank you Cynthia Cooper for demonstrating the public benefit of courage and honesty.
It took courage for J.K. Rowling to continue to pursuing her goal to be a novelist in spite of the numerous rejection letters she received. Had she not continued to risk rejection, we would not be able to enjoy the “Harry Potter” series. However, J.K. Rowling also did another courageous act of publicizing a recent rejection letter she received while writing under a pen name. She wanted to make her rejection public as a way to encourage other aspiring writers to bravely pursue their own paths. Thanks J.K. Rowling for courageously making your private failure public so we could be emboldened to take our own risks.
It took great courage for Toshonna Ross to commit to living after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse. In fact, the pain of her life was so great that she attempted suicide multiple times. Yet, Ross found the courage to commit to herself and to build a life for herself that was better than what she had experienced thus far. As Ross rebuilt her life, she courageously shared her experiences with other women in similar situations. The bravery that Toshonna Ross’ demonstrated in rebuilding her life and sharing her experience reminds us all that our tragedies can be triumphs if we face them courageously Click & Tweet! . Thank you Ms. Ross for your inspirational courage.
It took great courage for Zenzele Johnson to resign from a successful career as a youth educator. She was well loved by her students and served as a strong advocate from them, often going above and beyond the call of duty. Yet she knew that continuing to be in this position would lead to burnout and a compromise of her health. Johnson’s brave choice to prioritize self-care was a bold declaration of the new life she was creating. As Johnson states “Taking care of oneself is a true testament to growth and for that it will always be a step in the right direction, it will always be brave.” Thank you Zenzele Johnson for courageously valuing and protecting yourself and reminding us to make the same brave choice.
It took courage for 13-year old Mo’ne Davis to step into the national spotlight and dominate little league baseball, a sport that for decades has been thought of as male only. Numerous women who have courageously played “male” sports recount the taunts that come from players, opponents and fans. It takes tremendous fortitude to remain in such settings, let alone thrive. A significant part of Mo’ne’s success on and off the field is her unwavering confidence, even in the face of her obvious difference. In describing her dominance on the field, Mo’ne explains “I throw my curveball like Clayton Kershaw and my fastball like Mo’ne Davis.” Thank you Mo’ne for having the courage to be uniquely yourself in the national spotlight and inspiring us to do the same.
It took courage for me to risk my professional status as a social science researcher and commit to engaging and helping women through life coaching. I risked losing the esteem of my colleagues and my financial stability, but the opportunity to have this knowledge applied and used to make people’s lives better was worth that risk. Now as I witness the growth that my choice has produced in myself and my clients, I am so glad I exercised my courage.
Although I may not know you personally, I know that you have tremendous value, a distinctive set of talents, and a unique perspective on the world. I realize that your uniqueness may not always be celebrated and it takes courage to be different. Your acts of developing yourself and your talents are valuable contributions to our world. I thank you for exercising the courage to be your authentic self and share that with our world.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the willingness to act in spite of the fear. As Arianna Huffington explains “Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me.” Courage is a skill that can be learned like any other skill set Click & Tweet! . Courage is best learned in “small moments” when the stakes are less high. It takes courage to raise your hand in class and ask for clarification. It takes courage to voice an opinion different from those around you. It takes courage to speak of your dreams and ambitions that are outside of the norm. Practice taking these small risks daily and you will see your courage muscles grow Click & Tweet! .
Please share below your small and large acts of courage so that we all can be inspired to courageously be our unique selves.
So that’s my top ten list of inspirational quotes from Maya Angelou. I’d love to hear which quote inspires you the most or which one you’d like to add to this list.
Have you ever considered what history has to do with your present level of success and the likelihood of future success? It’s more than the proverbial statement “those that don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.” Recent social science research reveals that the knowledge of history improves our resiliency and increases our success Click & Tweet! .
Current social science research reveals that resiliency is a significant predictor of future success. Resiliency refers to our capacity to bounce back from traumatic life events or situations. We know that resiliency reduces emotional stress, increases life satisfaction and increases likelihood of success Click & Tweet! . Whether measuring athletic accomplishments or academic achievement, research shows that resiliency promotes optimal performance. In all areas of life individuals’ who have more resiliency experience more success.
We can not control where we start in life. Life often presents us with substantial challenges and negative situations beyond our choosing. However, Dr. Joy DeGruy’s research documents that knowledge of family history increases resiliency and success for at-risk youth. In other words, the more history a young person knows, the greater likelihood of success in spite of the challenges of the social environment.
We stand here today as the result of great efforts from others on our behalf. Some examples of the individual and collective work done on our behalf include: our family’s efforts to provide for us until we could provide for ourselves, unknown soldiers fighting for our political freedom, and social activists fighting for our social and economic opportunities. Whether they know us by name or not, we are beneficiaries of of these people’s work. This knowledge places responsibility upon us to behave in a manner that honors their investments in us. I can still remember everyday before going to school, my mother’s instruction “Don’t do anything that will embarrass me.” It was clear to me from a young age that my behavior at school and in public did not only reflect me, but my mother as well. My mother is a woman of great pride and dignity who has worked hard to protect this dignity in spite of varied assaults and I would never want to do something that would bring shame to her. Detailed knowledge of the efforts of others for us instills a sense of personal accountability beyond ourselves Click & Tweet! .
Although we may be physically standing in a classroom or boardroom by ourselves, our connection to our family and collective history reminds us that in spirit we are surrounded by a community of supporters cheering us on Click & Tweet! . This awareness provides us with the strength and confidence to succeed in spaces that are not necessarily welcoming or comfortable. It is difficult to be “the only.” The only person of color in a white classroom, the only woman in a male dominated field, the only person from a working class family in an elite profession. Visualizing our family with us is a way of claiming that social space as our own and asserting our right to be there. In situations where you are the minority, there are numerous subtle and not so subtle messages that you do not belong. However, when you recognize that you are not “the only” one and that you have a larger community of people standing there with you, there is a renewed sense of strength and belonging. This provides you with the confidence needed to succeed in the face of others’ questions about your ability.
Reviewing our history reminds us that people have faced similar or greater struggles and have overcome through determination and effort. That struggle could be as individual as your grandmother being left alone to parent eight children on her own but rising to the task and doing her best to make sure every child was fed and loved. Or it could be a collective struggle, like remembering your grandparents who survived the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian genocide in Turkey. These personal stories remind you that you are not the first person to experience devastating hardship. You come from a people that have experienced intense suffering and yet have been able to survive and transform that suffering into personal triumph. You are a product of their success and you have inherited this legacy of being an overcomer. The same spiritual, social, and emotional resources your family and community used to succeed are available to you at any moment of need Click & Tweet! .
You can now see the wisdom of Carter G. Woodson’s decision to start “Negro History Week”, which later became “Black History Month”. The activities of this month help to educate non-Black people about the value of the Black community’s contribution to America and the world. Yet I believe that the biggest impact of these activities is the strength and resilience it gives to people who identify as members of the Black community. These stories of history infuse Black people, young and old, with psychological and spiritual resources to succeed.
Regardless of whether you are a member of the Black community, I invite you to consider how you can participate in this powerful act of using your history to promote your success. Dr. DeGruy’s research reminds us that intimate knowledge of our personal family history is just as important as knowledge of our collective history in increasing our resilience and success. Take time to learn about and reflect upon your individual family’s history. How can you use these stories to increase your success? In addition, make sure to share your personal history with others as a means of promoting their success. Your experiences and choices have taught you important lessons about yourself and the world Click & Tweet! . These lessons don’t have to packaged in a neat bow or be confined to a particular month of the year; they are gifts of wisdom that can equip others with the resiliency needed to succeed.
If you would like to share a story about the gift of resiliency that fuels your success or the success of others, please do so below. You have no idea of the power of your story until you tell it.