I just recently heard a story for the very first time. For starters, I am no historian, and even established historians have some disagreement around the validity of this tale. I still want to share, as I feel the idea is very worthwhile…
It’s about Alfred Nobel. You may have heard of him as a prolific inventor, and most notably, as the father of the Nobel Prize(s), regarded as top honors in each of their areas of respective interest.
Let's focus on one of these, though: The Nobel Peace Prize. Essentially, this award is supposed to be given in light of humankind’s most meaningful action. Setting aside the controversy over certain particular winners through the years, the award in itself sounds pretty neat, but it’s the supposed origin story of this prize, which is truly incredible and provocative…
While Nobel was a great inventor, much of his innovation was actually done in relation to very destructive material, such as dynamite. The story goes that, one day, Alfred’s brother was found dead. The media of the time confused the two brothers, believing that it was Alfred who had died, when, in fact, it was not. Blind to their mistake, the press went on to write an obituary for “Alfred Nobel”. Once published, Alfred Nobel, who was very much alive, is said to read this sentiment on his own life.
What Alfred found, was not the manifesto of a heroic, genius inventor. Instead, he read a work which was largely comprised of negatives on his life creations. As is understandable, this is said to have sent Nobel into an interesting state of vulnerability. Not only did he have the unique chance to read his own obituary, but he got to understand exactly what those outside of his own ego, thought of him.
From this vulnerability, Nobel realized that he needed to reach a greater meaning than that which was illustrated in his premature obituary. He is said to have used this odd event as motivation, going on to bring to creation the, now commonly known, Nobel Peace Prize. Again, an honor that would recognize those creating truly, meaningful good for the world.
I find this story absolutely incredible.
Alfred Nobel got, essentially, a second chance at life (or at least at legacy). Most of us will not be faced with the reality of reading out own obituary. However, what if we consider this for a moment? If, right now, we were to open our local newspaper, and see a dedicated posting to our life, what would it say? Perhaps more importantly, what would we want it to say? This second question is the key, because unlike in the case of a traditional obituary, with our 'mock' obituary, the statements made within are not conclusions, but rather a step towards our self-awareness. Our sun came up today, and that means that, as of this moment, we still have the opportunity to map to our ambition in a way that would make us proud, and fill us with meaning.
For clarity, I do not mean any of this in a “what will others reading the news think of me?!” sense. Rather, I’m asking the question, if we ourselves were to read our own respective ‘wrap-up’ of life, what would we think? How would we feel? Would we be happy, or would we roll over in our grave (figuratively, for now)?
Regret derived from a lack of action is my greatest fear in this life. Regardless of the truth behind the Nobel tale, I want to express gratitude for its contents. Thank you, Nobel, for unintentionally illustrating this exercise of vulnerability. In my mind, if true, this is possibly your greatest innovation, and that’s saying something.
Also, huge thanks to Richard Gunderman’s article on Nobel, found in The Conversation, for helping to fill in some gaps, and providing a bit of information for this story that I came in contact with.