Back        Home

Obama and the Prize
By Robert Fritz

Of course, winning the Nobel Peace Prize drove President Obama's political enemies to higher and higher decibels of outrage. That's to be expected. What else can they do? But Obama himself said he didn't deserve it. So it is agreed. Except, of course, by those who picked him.

What might they have in mind?

This piece is not about politics, something of which I'm not a fan, but rather about an interesting idea about the two sides of the creative process: the yin and the yang. I have written about the yin and yang of creating in a previous article. But, this event got me to rethink the proposition. Obama didn't get the prize for ending a war, or finding the cure for cancer, or finding life on Mars. As he said, he does not put himself in the ranks of previous prizewinners who were transitional figures like Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, or Mother Teresa, or Elie Wiesel.

Yet, there is something the Nobel committee recognized that is not at all obvious from a purely "yang" point of view. That is the ability to change the atmosphere. In a world in which dogma is becoming progressively radical and polarized, where sides become more doggedly entrenched, where the logical road leads to violence and hostility, where humanities very worst traits become center stage, to step back for a moment and take a breath, to turn the temperature down, to pose profound questions rather than to shout ultimatums is not nothing. It is not an active event with a beginning middle and end. Rather it is something tangible yet hard to pinpoint. It is the yin in which the yang can have a second chance. Within a new and open climate, new and productive events become more possible.

I have been in meetings where things were getting pretty polarized when someone made a little joke that softened the hard edges and lightened the burden of each side having to fight to defend their position. I have seen people become open when a higher order goal or principle made discussions possible that otherwise would have been impossible. This is not an event in and of itself, yet it makes positive events, agreements, reconciliation, collaboration, and cooperation more available and possible.

This is very "yin," so to speak. The space in which the active part of the creative process can enter. Critics complain that Obama was nominated just twelve short days after his inauguration. What can one do in such a short time to get the attention of the Nobel committee? It must be pointed out that he didn't actually win the prize in those twelve days, only that he was on the list. But, by then, around the world, many people could feel a sea change. And then he reached out, asking for renewed hope, dialogue, collaboration, and the prospect of joining together to build something worth building, rather than just confronting one worldview against another.

Okay, we all agree he didn't "earn" the prize. But, perhaps, in a funny sort of way, he did.

Those whose political strategy is to polarize rather than find common ground upon which to build are not creators. They are ideologues. And what they are left with is something I have written about in many of my books, conflict manipulation. The idea is very simple, create as much emotional conflict as you can so as to get a reaction. The reaction is ALWAYS against something. The more of the conflict one feels, the more likely it is that he or she will react. But the underlying structure of conflict manipulation leads to an oscillating pattern that is self-defeating. Once the person takes action, he or she feels better about the conflict. After all, the point of the action, the real motivation, is to relieve the experience of conflict. Once the conflict is lessened, there is less motivation to act. This structural principle can be seen from simple problem-solving, to worrying, to movements that are based on warning us about the dangers we face, to world conflicts in which the logical end of the road is war, violence, and tragedy. That's why those who are in the business of polarizing positions are not creators. Creators bring something into being, a creation. You can't do that if you are distorting reality to produce a reaction.

Over time, those who live by conflict manipulation must intensify the experience of conflict. The reason is that the same amount of conflict will not produce the same effect over time. We have all seen the frustrated mother screaming at the top of her lungs at her child in the supermarket. The child ignores her and continues to do the very thing that aggravates the mother. It takes more and more screaming just to get the child's attention. The structure of conflict manipulation teaches people to not listen. Those who use it become more and more crazy sounding, as they are forced to become more and more radical. There are two essential factors missing if we want to create: a desired outcome we want to create, and reality exactly as it is.

As creators, we need to understand that balance is not symmetry. A little yin can go a long way to support a lot of yang. An openness to the unknown, without filling in the space with concepts, worldviews, or dogma, can lead to something new and, as of yet, unborn in the imagination.

Robert Fritz 2010

Back        Home

Updated: 10/24/10