MY SPEECH AT THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF BERTHA VON SUTTNER
This year it is 100 years since Bertha von Suttner died. She was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. What most people do not know, is that there probably not would be a Nobel Peace Prize without her. Bertha von Suttner met the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel when she started working for him as a secretary, in Paris in 1875. After only a week Bertha returned to Austria to rejoin with the love of her life, Arthur von Suttner. But their brief encounter in Paris proved to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Bertha von Suttner’s relentless anti-war engagement and the friendship with Alfred Nobel resulted in "the world's most prestigious prize"; the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is an absolute delight to share with you - in my very first blog post - my speech at the 100th anniversary of Bertha von Suttner at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, November 13th, 2014:
What an honor!
I have come to the understanding that I have a “Bertha project” – that we ALL have a “Bertha project”. And I want to share with you how I came to this understanding. The story goes like this:
One year ago, I was asked by Anne Synnøve Simensen to hold a speech at an upcoming event she was planning, together with Kathrine Aspaas, in honor of Bertha von Suttner’s 100 year jubilee.
She had attended my latest book launch and expressed that she had enjoyed my speech on how we are all here to serve and to do something of greater good. She asked me to touch upon the same theme - as this was a philosophy she recognized from Bertha.
She told me that she was planning a modest celebration. It would only be a few speakers and she was sure to find a small and nice location for the event. Of course, I was honored to be asked and accepted.
Then something happened.
Suddenly, we were five people sitting down in honor of Bertha von Suttner’s great peace work and planning the event and as suddenly other people and organizations were helping us in making this celebration to become something that surpassed even my greatest imagination.
I was no longer going to speak at a small and modest event. I was going to speak at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, before a former prime minister, before the director of the Nobel Institute and the secretary of the Nobel Committee, before an ambassador and people from various peace organizations - working for peace every day. And the whole event would be videotaped and I would have to speak in English.
My first thought: I cannot do this! And this thought went on for a whole day – or maybe two or three if I am quite honest.
Then I thought: Ellen, this is what it is all about; Peace is the opposite of fear.
We have to surpass fear in order to have peace. Fear is nothing but our own ego driven voice of not being good enough. The ego driven voice is the voice that competes, fights and try to win every battle. Fear is the voice that separates us.
But we ALL have another voice. We have a voice of truth and of wisdom. And when we choose this voice, fear disappear.
My voice was silent until I was approximately 44 years old. Then I decided to go back to where it all started. I remembered being a little girl, sitting inside the closet in my parents’ bedroom for hours, dreaming and being philosophical in a childish way. To this day I remember the smell of the small wooden shoo shelf where I was sitting. Then, my parents told me to stop wasting my time. They told me to do something sensible instead. I was going to have a proper education and become something respectable. I listened to them, as I listened to my friends and to my teachers. I listened to all who had opinions for my life. And the more I listened to and acted on their good intentions, the more I lost sight of my voice.
I became “something respectable”. I got my degrees. A business career of twenty years followed. Everything was quite perfect actually, expect for the one thing. I was longing desperately for SOMETHING, something that I did not longer remember. And the longing created a void in my soul.
It took many years, to go back. But it was worth the struggle. Today, I know what I was longing for. I was longing for my silent voice.
This story is of course not only my story. It is our story. It is also the story of Bertha von Suttner. We ALL have a voice and each voice is just as important. And just like Bertha, I believe that people and circumstances can change and that everybody can make a difference. It is never too late or too early.
So, at the age of 44, I started on my original path. I did not know exactly what I would do with this voice I had rediscovered, but I knew I would in some way encourage other people to find their own SOMETHING – their own voice – and contribute.
I became a professional coach, I started to write articles, books and from being a person with total stage fright, I started to speech. I had found that SOMETHING that was way beyond more important than me and my ego driven voice of not being good enough. I knew, at my core, that this voice which had been silent for so long was MY truth.
Today, I think of the voice of Bertha von Suttner. What if she had remained silent? What if she had joined the rank of traditional aristocrat women and lived up to the expectations of her time? What if she had listened to her ego-driven voice of not being good enough to write or to speak about peace?
Today, I think about Bertha von Suttner, when she attended her first international peace congress, The Universal Peace Congress in Rome, where she was the first woman to give a public speech. Bertha came to the Congress with total stage fright. She knew this because this fright had stopped her from being the professional opera singer she had dreamed of. But when she spoke at the Universal Peace Congress in Rome, she knew that she was speaking for a greater cause, far greater than she. Bertha chose trust over fear.
Her project was to fight for PEACE. My project is to inspire people to fulfill their dreams, and this is what I humbly call my “Bertha project.” I am back where it all started, in my parents’ bedroom, in the closet dreaming and being philosophical, but not only that, I have found the courage to go out of the closet and tell you.
Courage is the bonus of spiking our truth.
I believe that we ALL have our own “Bertha projects”, a voice that is so true and so essential to us that we need to speak it in order to leave wholeheartedly and in order for peace to happen. For you it might be politics, it might be writing, singing or painting, it might be invention, engineering, sports, the green revolution or homeless cats. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you do not let your voice remain silent.
Our true voices are the only tool WE have to create peace, justice and harmony.
Before I leave you to reflect on you own “Bertha project”, I would like to quote from one of Bertha von Suttner’s own speeches:
The advocates of peace are well aware how meager are their resources of personal influence and power. They know that they are still few in number and weak in authority, but when they realistically consider themselves and the ideal they serve, they see themselves as the servants of the greatest of all causes.
(photo: Eirik Aspaas)