Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday for his work to bring a ceasefire to the 50-year Colombian civil war. While the peace accord itself remains tenuous, the Norwegian Nobel Committee sees the award as a means to bolster the ongoing peace efforts.
Santos remains a controversial figure, with an approval rate of only 25% among the Colombian public. Yet regardless of one’s point of view or what individual opinions are about his government’s other policies, it merits considering who he has been to receive this accolade. His current dedication to witnessing the various sides of the conflict, stepping over nothing and encouraging difficult conversations is an illustration of leading from the front within a highly complex and multi-faceted environment.
In reflecting on the 376 nominees for this year’s award, though, it’s clear that all of the leadership dimensions are alive and thriving throughout the world.
The open hearts of the Greek islanders of Lesbos have offered an awe-inspiring model of leadership from within as they opened their homes with compassion to over 80,000 refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Sixty-three-year-old Thanasis Marmarinos summed up the Greek ethos in an interview with Reuters, commenting, “I am morally satisfied with what I did, that I helped these people. Everything else, including the Nobel, is not important.”
Likewise, members of the Syrian Civil Defense, otherwise known as the White Helmets, have demonstrated courage, extraordinary service and exemplary leadership from the field as they work to save lives in the tragic and ever-uncertain crisis in their homeland. These volunteers — all ordinary citizens — have saved more than 60,000 lives since war broke out in 2011. The White Helmets have provided a crucial lifeline for the Syrian people, feeling in to what is needed and rushing in to the most devastated areas in Aleppo and beyond.
Still other nominees like Pope Francis have taken a quieter tact in promoting world peace through leading from behind and beside. The Pontiff’s nomination this year specifically pointed to his soft-handed approach in supporting other leaders around matters of peace. Notably, his efforts to serve as a bridge where communications are strained, such as in U.S.-Cuban relations and the peace negotiations in Colombia, have helped create a space for listening and greater understanding.
With the power of dimensional leadership well represented in these and the many other 2016 nominees, we can look to our own world with greater curiosity and ask ourselves, “Where is my humanity calling me to serve?”