During our time in Lillehammer, we had the opportunity to learn about the life of the famous Norwegian scientist, explorer, diplomat, and promoter of human rights Fridtjof Nansen from Inge Eidsvåg, a former director of the Nansen Center. Throughout the presentation, I was surprised by how honestly Nansen’s life was portrayed in both his accomplishments and mistakes. This openness brought back fond memories from the research unit of Paideia, the compulsory first-year course at Luther, where we read excerpts from James Loewens Lies My Teacher Told Me. In his novel, Loewen analyzes United States history textbooks and found that the stories of historical figures may not have been presented in their entireties, possibly in an effort to preserve the good names of those we hold in high esteem.
When I asked Inge about the importance of this honest portrayal, he explained that when someones story is presented more completely and objectively, it is easier to see that even the greatest historical figures are still human and made mistakes, just like we do. Upon further reflection, I find that presenting only the positive characteristics of the lives of historical figures (especially U.S. Presidents) may lead to a deep-rooted sense of nostalgia and, in turn, a much more negative and seemingly hopeless outlook for the future. It may even make some of us believe that we need to make America great again. In contrast, if the great names of the past are portrayed at their best and worst, we may find hope in the fact that, despite our mistakes, we can still search for ways to leave the world in a better place than when we found it.
Today, we had the opportunity to see the power if this optimism when we met Henrik Syse at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. Among other impressive credentials, Henrik is one of five members on the committee who determines the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I am safe in saying that all of us (Peace Scholars) learned something new or found a new way to look at the world during our short time in discussion with Henrik. Personally, the most inspiring part of our meeting with Henrik was how hopeful and optimistic he was for the future of humanity. He also stressed that while it is easy — and often helpful — to focus on the negativity and hate around us, it is crucial that we recognize the positivity and love around us as well.