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For the Sake of the Future

Seven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Speak About Their Hopes for Humanity's Next Step

What would nobel Peace Prize laureates have to say about spiritual evolution? How would these warriors for peace, these pragmatic idealists, describe humanity's next evolutionary step? Does their vision of the transformation of the world involve a spiritual dimension?

Last winter, WIE journeyed to the pristine wintry city of Oslo, Norway, for the Nobel Peace Prize Centennial Symposium to ask some of the twentieth century's most extraordinary freedom fighters about humanity's path to a prosperous and peaceful future. However, as thirty of the thirty-nine living peace laureates arrived for three days of discussion about "The Conflicts of the Twentieth Century and the Solutions for the Twenty-First Century," the realities of a world far from peace closed in. Rooftop snipers stood alert in key locations surrounding the converted ski chalet, site of the conference events. F-16 fighter jets crouched in their hangars on high alert. Throughout the city, armed police and canine patrols paced the streets in case Osama Bin Laden's threats became terrifying reality. The precariousness of world peace and the fragility of life, in particular the lives of these great world figures, hung in the crisp northern air.

Against this backdrop, the questions that WIE's Daniel Piatek posed to the laureates seemed even more pressingly relevant: What will it take for humanity to evolve beyond the division, conflict, and injustice that so afflict our world? Is spiritual evolution what is actually needed for us to truly transform human life on this fragile planet? Clearly these men and women, who have fought with their lives to change human history, have thought deeply about our shared future. And each of these rare individuals demonstrated in their very being a passion for life, a strength of character, and a depth of conviction in our ability to effect change that gives great faith in the potential for human evolution.

We are honored to be able to bring to you the reflections of seven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, some of the twentieth century's most heroic individuals, on the role of spirituality in humanity's next evolutionary step.

What will it take for humanity to evolve beyond the division, conflict, and injustice that so afflict our world?

Is spiritual evolution what is actually needed for us to truly transform human life on this fragile planet?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I HOPE THAT WE CAN begin to realize that all of us are created in the image of God, that all of us are God-carriers. The evolution that people are speaking about is the recognition of our essential goodness. And that we are made, surprisingly, for transcendence, for beauty, for joy, for caring. So many of us are unaware of our heritage. Some of the bewildering things that happen drive us, as it were, back to our source, to our roots. When we realize that we are vulnerable, that we are not omnipotent, then maybe we will see where our true security lies.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work to end apartheid in South Africa. Persevering through decades of fierce opposition, Tutu successfully campaigned for equal rights, common education, the abolition of unfair passport laws, and the end of forced deportation of blacks.Through his courageous political stand and his deep spiritual faith, Tutu was able to break down the religious racial barriers and become the first black leader of the national South African Council of Churches.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum
Guatemalan exile and international advocate of indigenous peoples' rights

OUR RELIGION, our way of living, and our closeness to nature are very important. Our ancestral culture is very profound and has deep values that allow us to have hope for the future, and support us to look toward a better world in the future. We have so much to learn about how to live and how to behave for the sake of the future. Our religion gives us the strength and will to do this. Many of us don't have power. The power is in other hands. But yes, there has to be a bigger way of seeing, where we don't just think about ourselves, where we think about the whole. It's very important that we all work for peace and for human rights. We have to take care to defend the truth. And the Nobel laureates have a very important role, which is to say, "There is a problem. We know the truth, and we have a vision for the future."

Rigoberta Menchu Tum received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Born to a poor Mayan family, Menchu Tum began working for social reform through the Catholic Church while still a teenager. In 1981 she was forced to flee her native Guatemala after her family was brutally tortured and then killed for their resistance to the military regime. While in exile, Menchu Tum published a powerful firsthand account of the crisis in Guatemala, exposing millions to the tragic abuse of human rights in Central America. At great risk to her own life, she has continued to campaign for social justice, democracy, and ethnic rights for indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Lech Walesa
Leader of the Polish Workers' Solidarity Movement

IT'S EASY TO SAY that we should rise up and evolve, but how do we do it? We have to remember that what we are facing now is still the era of division. We're divided on too many things, and we are using religion to be divided also. Now we should fight this division, and then develop a new view on religion. We need to find out that there is just one God, and then there are many different teachers. But first we should stop the conflict. We should stop the divisions. And we should make sure that there is no more injustice. If we stop what we are doing right now, we will not create new problems. To find out what's possible for humanity, we need to sit down and talk together. We need to speak about everything— what we own, how we are, how we live. It has to start with individuals, and then we'll meet together as one.

Lech Walesa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. An electrician from Gdansk, Lech Walesa headed the Polish Workers' Solidarity Movement, the organization credited with bringing down the legendary "Iron Curtain" and ending the long era of Soviet control over Eastern Europe. Relying on his own deep Catholic faith, and with unprecedented support from the Pope, Walesa took a bold stand against Soviet martial law and helped lead the Polish people to democratic self-rule with the slogan, "For our freedom, and for yours."

H.H. the Dalai Lama
I USUALLY SPEAK of two levels of spirituality. One kind of spirituality has to do with faith. The other is not necessarily religious faith; it simply has to do with having good human qualities, such as a sense of caring for one another, a sense of community, and a sense of responsibility. We can have a happy world without a religious government, but a happy world is not possible without good human qualities. So, within that context, spiritual traditions have an important role, which is to increase or extend basic human values and make a contribution for a better, more compassionate world. Education, not necessarily a religious state, will help humanity do this.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetans, led his people into exile in 1959 when the Chinese government violently invaded their native land. Over the past four decades, his unwavering commitment to nonviolent resistance and his call for compassion, in the face of the deaths of over one million Tibetans and the systematic destruction of the Tibetan religion, culture, and natural environment has earned him the respect, honor, and love of millions around the world.

Jody Williams
Founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines

I'M NOT SURE I would posit that the change we need is spiritual. When I look at classic Western Judeo-Christian spirituality, the atrocities that have been carried out in the name of God are repulsive. But I do think that an important component in changing our world involves an ethic of living from the fact that we are not fundamentally separate from others. Because, obviously, if we don't divide the world into "them and us" or "you're my enemy and I'm the good guy," it changes how conflict would be resolved because it's not "them against us," it's "we against us." It's our problem in one way or another—so how do we deal with it to the betterment of all? Religious leaders are effective, and I think the first step is through religious leaders like the ones sitting here who combine their spirituality with active politics and don't just sit in monasteries, which doesn't really rapidly bring about world change.

Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Williams founded the ICBL in 1992 to raise public awareness of the inhumanity of landmine weapons and to campaign to end their use around the world. Within half a decade, what had seemed like an unrealistic utopian movement successfully brought about the signing of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. ICBL is now officially supported in over sixty countries by over one thousand non-governmental organizations.

Oscar Arias Sanchez
Former President of Costa Rica

YES, WE NEED TO CHANGE our perspective and we need to change our values, but I don't think it will only come from spirituality. We cannot remain so hypocritical, so cynical, and so selfish. These values need to be replaced by solidarity, compassion, justice, and generosity. It is already a fact that the population of the developing world will be seven times larger than that of the industrialized nations in forty years' time, so we cannot go on not addressing the basic issues on humanitarian fronts. It is the responsibility of each one of us—in the family, in the church, in the classrooms, in the university, in government, in civil society—to make this change in values happen. My dream—and this is not a utopia—is to have a more egalitarian society in the world, with fewer social differences. This is not going to happen if we don't change our ethics. Only if we change our ethics will we change our priorities; and only if we change our priorities will we change our actions.

Oscar Arias Sanchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. Known as a man of the people, Sanchez has worked tirelessly for the last three decades to bring humanitarian concerns to the forefront of national and international political agendas in Central America. The architect of a watershed peace agreement among five Central American nations, Sanchez has brought about a climate of cooperation and respect for civil and human rights in an area that has long been factionalized by border tensions, governmental oppression, and civil war.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Co-leader of a national peace movement in Northern Ireland

I AGREE WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE the universality of human experience. The spirit of love and compassion, the spirit of celebration of life and of creation, is very important. Everyone follows their own spiritual path; we come into wisdom, or enlightenment, in different ways. But when we do, the whole world is seen as our brothers and sisters, and the earth as our home. So we do need spiritual enlightenment, and we also need a lot of changes in our policies. Our spiritual life should energize us and help us to be politically active. We need both the spiritual world and the secular world to work together. If we only go by the rational, fear can set in. If we bring the heart to it, we understand that we're interconnected as human beings, and we really have to help each other. Every individual can practice peace in their home or work for peace in their community. Then they will recognize that our common humanity is more important than all the things that divide us, and they'll be able to reach out to the whole world. I'm very hopeful for the future of humanity because I do believe we have this great convergence of science and spiritual life. And I think when we bring those two great influences together, then we have the heart (the compassion and love) and we have the head (the knowledge) to know what to do.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, together with Betty Williams, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. After her young nephews and niece were accidentally killed in the civil violence that has plagued Ireland for the last thirty years, Corrigan Maguire took to the streets for peace. Her grassroots Peace People Movement has organized the largest nonviolent demonstrations in the history of Northern Ireland, bringing out over a half million people during the time of the greatest number of killings. The organization's work for nonviolent solutions to the conflict in Northern Ireland has garnered broad support throughout England, Ireland, and the international community.


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This article is from
Our Evolution Issue