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The power of looking the Grim Reaper in the eye

      
Todd Van Beck's picture
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 ALFRED BERNHARD NOBEL

1833-1896

DISCOVERER AND INVENTOR OF DYNAMITE

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  When Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter won it seemed by most accounts that there was universal happiness and pride in the United States about our President(s) attaining this globally singular honor. 

Recently during lunch I watched the nonstop coverage by CNN about whether or not Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.  There were heated arguments, the race card of course had to come up, and the political pundits basically dissected the subject to the point that people eating their lunch asked the proprietor to turn off the television – now there is an idea worth consideration – turning off the box of dots, or more correctly today of digital fiber optics.  Privately it worried me that any American would not rejoice in the success of our President – but that is something that I think I will keep to myself.

This essay and this rumination have little if anything to do with President Obama, but as a human being and as an American I was happy that he won.  Better I think that the President of the United States win the Peace Prize versus and a few other kooky world leaders I could think of – but that again is my private opinion and I don’t want to do anything which will get me reported to the blog cops.

Here is what I would like to share.  The minute I learned that our President had won the Nobel Peace Prize I immediately started to think about Alfred Nobel, the creator and sustainer of the prize itself and the terribly interesting story behind the now world renowned prize.

Alfred B. Nobel was by all accounts a genius.  He was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, large armaments manufacturer, and the interestingly the singular inventor of dynamite.  He owned BOFORS, one of the major armaments manufacturers in Europe which made almost any kind of war and killing instruments and weapons that a country could want.  Add the sole rights to dynamite and Al Nobel made millions.

Everything was going great for Mr. Nobel until 1893 when the newspaper Stockholm Fria News received a report that Alfred Nobel had suddenly died.  Without much of any investigation the newspaper with front page headlines announced the death of Alfred Nobel to the world – but the problem was that Alfred Nobel was alive and well.  In short order he read his own obituary.

The premature obituary which horrified Nobel was headlined with this bold caption:  “THE INVENTOR WHOSE INVENTION HAS KILLED MILLIONS IS TODAY DEAD HIMSELF.”

Dynamite and the war armament business had taken an unknown toll on Nobel’s reputation.  The headline stunned the old man and he decided that the world would NOT remember him as being the inventor whose invention killed millions but instead the world would remember him and his name as being a synonym with excellence, with leadership, with creativity, with vision and benevolence. 

Hence Alfred Nobel laid the foundations for the Nobel Prize in 1895, two years after seeing how the world would have remembered him.  Nobel’s accidental brush with his own mortality was a great motivator for him to take action – and action now!

Alfred Nobel wrote his last will and testament and in the end left most of his enormous wealth for the establishment of the Nobel Prize which since 1901 has honored men and women for globally outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace and now economics.

Alfred Nobel would not live to see the first Nobel Prizes awarded.  He died at Sanremo, Italy, on December 10, 1896.  

Every Nobel Prize recipient owes much to a newspaper that messed a obituary up royally and to the stimulus and motivation one man embraced when he encountered the Grim Reaper face to face on the front pages of the paper.

One thing for certain, Alfred Nobel’s confrontation with his own mortality in the end did indeed leave the world a much better place.  Here is a happy ending concerning one person’s encounter with the Grim Reaper.  Personal death awareness can improve life greatly.

Anyway that’s one old undertaker’s opinion.

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