I took on this piece because I knew it would be a challenge, something that no Nobel Peace Prize winner has ever shied away from. In my research, I had the honor of playing time traveler to authentically recount banquet speeches and key points from the work of these geniuses that pushed humanity in the right direction. I found some of the most original, thoughtful, and brightest minds our species has to offer, and their wisdom will no doubt serve us for eternity.
Here are 20 philosophers, physicists, chemists, writers, thinkers, doers, and former Nobel Prize winners who set the foundation for worldly progression and sociological change. Their words are unparalleled, and their work has unquestionably altered the world we know today in a positive way. Yet, I realized something during my studies about these people that may surprise you, but I’ll save my reckoning till after these genius’ have the stand.
1. Malala Yousafza
Lesson Taught: Prioritizing knowledge over violence (particularly in the Middle East).
Prize Category: Peace (2014)
“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are the most powerful weapons.”
– Banquet Speech
2. Jimmy Carter
Lesson Taught: Unity trumps everything in our path to peace.
Prize Category: Peace (2002)
“Despite theological differences, all great religions share common commitments that define our ideal secular relationships. I am convinced that Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and others can embrace each other in a common effort to alleviate human suffering and to espouse peace.”
– Nobel Lecture
3. Mother Teresa
Lesson Taught: The correlation of love, work, and sacrifice.
Prize Category: Peace (1979)
“At the moment of death, we will not be judged by the amount of work we have done but by the weight of love we have put into our work. This love should flow from self-sacrifice, and it must be felt to the point of hurting.”
– No Greater Love
4. William Butler Yeats
Lesson Taught: Positive perspective.
Prize Category: Literature (1923)
“Let us go forth, the teller of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.”
– The Celtic Twilight
Lesson Taught: Make mistakes, but learn from them.
Prize Category: Physics (1922)
“An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.”
– Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession by Robert Coughlan (LIFE magazine)
6. Nelson Mandela
Lesson Taught: The important difference between fear and being afraid.
Prize Category: Peace (1993)
“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– Long Walk to Freedom
7. Hermann Hesse
Lesson Taught: Live out the things you value most.
Prize Category: Literature (1946)
“Only the ideas that we actually live are of any value.”
– Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
– Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth
8. George Bernard Shaw
Lesson Taught: Circumstances are made, not given.
Prize Category: Literature (1925)
“People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get fed up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”
– Mrs. Warren’s Profession
9. Rudyard Kipling
Lesson Taught: The power of words.
Prize Category: Literature (1907)
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
– Speech quoted in The Times
10. Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
Lesson Taught: Overcoming adversity.
Prize Category: Literature (1953)
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
– Sir Winston Churchill: His Wit and Wisdom by Jon Allen
“It’s no enough to do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required”
–Two Wars by Nate Self
11. Sinclair Lewis
Lesson Taught: No way is the right way.
Prize Category: Literature (1930)
He insisted that there is no Truth, but only many truths; that Truth is not a colored bird to be chased among the rocks and captured by it’s tail, but a skeptical attitude on life.”
12. Ernest Hemingway
Lesson Taught: Reaching your potential is gaining fulfillment.
Prize Category: Literature (1954)
“He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayls of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook. What was this? A catalogue of old books? What was his talent anyway? It was a talent all right but instead of using it, he had traded on it. It was never what he had done, but always what he could do.”
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
13. John Steinbeck
Lesson Taught: Mind over mob.
Prize Category: Literature (1962)
“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction is wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.”
– East of Eden
14. Theodore Roosevelt
Lesson Taught: One small step daily will eventually climb a mountain.
Prize Category: Peace (1906)
“Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.”
– Acceptance Speech
15. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lesson Taught: The beauty of camaraderie.
Prize Category: Peace (1964)
“…the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”
– Acceptance Speech
16. Barack Obama
Lesson Taught: Freedom doesn’t settle.
Prize Category: Peace (2009)
“Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”
– Iowa Caucus Victory Speech
17. Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot
Prize Category: Literature (1948)
“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”
– The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism
18. Linus Pauling
Lesson Taught: Everything must be taken with no more than one grain of salt.
Prize Category: Chemistry (1954)
“When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect – but do not believe him. Never put your trust into anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel laureate – may be wrong. The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical – always think for yourself.”
– Scientist and Peacemaker
19. Marie Curie, née Sklodowska
Lesson Taught: Let fear be silenced by knowledge.
Prize Category: Physics (1903)
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
– Precarious Habitat
20. Albert Einstein
Lesson Taught: Mind is to intellect as imagination is to genius.
Prize Category: Physics (1921)
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”
– Letter to Moris Raphael Cohen
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”
– Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
– Einstein’s Tribute to Pablo Casals
These are by no means ordinary or standard thoughts. Yet, the ideas shared on a grand scale of an NPP banquet aren’t any more or less profound than conversations I’ve had with professors, colleagues, business associates, and, yes, my friends. We all want peace, change, and personal prosperity, but few of us take the personal and communal steps in order to get there.
Realize that you, too, are capable of great things like the leaders I’ve shared with you today. Let’s gracefully and proudly stand on the shoulders of our forefathers, and expand what they worked so tirelessly to build. If you firmly believe that you are worthy to walk among these greats, than you’ll take the first step of enacting the change you so desperately seek in the world.
Go get it.
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