The Merchant of Death is Dead
Every Sunday morning the SheHive writers group meets online at 10:00 am to share successes and struggles related to our creative journeys. Sometimes we do timed writing prompts together online. Sometimes, if someone is looking for feedback and/or affirmation, a member of the group will share a piece they’ve recently written.
This week Stephanie shared a speech she had written for her Toastmasters* group. I was so struck by the lesson in her speech that I asked if I could share an excerpt as this week’s blog. With Stephanie’s permission, please read on about the story of Alfred Nobel - a peace-loving gentleman who dared to do the work to change the story of his life...
Alfred Nobel was a brilliant inventor who held over 355 patents - one of which was for what he called “Nobel’s Safety Powder.” Nobel combined nitroglycerin with an inert material called diatomaceous earth so that it would become safer to handle. It was stronger than black powder and safer than nitroglycerin alone. This “Safety Powder” is more commonly known to us as dynamite. It was used during construction to blast rock to begin building bridges, roads and buildings.
Making it safer sounds like it would be better, right?
Almost 130 years ago today – April 13, 1888 - Alfred Nobel sat, saddened, on a dreary morning. His brother, Ludwig, had passed away the day before. Through his despair he made himself breakfast, opened his newspaper and found this headline:
“The Merchant of Death is Dead”
He read on…
“Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday."
I could only imagine that he was in shock.
Of course, the newspaper got it all wrong – it was not he who died, it was his brother. And Alfred, himself, wasn’t a death monger! But Alfred Nobel had an awakening - this is what people thought of him. He began thinking of how to improve his public image after this article. He was an older gentleman, and one thing that the newspaper didn’t get wrong is that he was, indeed, rich.
He decided to leave his enormous fortune to fund a set of prizes named after himself: The Nobel Prizes. These prizes would be awarded to people who made the greatest contributions to mankind in subjects that he was interested in - Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and PEACE.
Nobel wasn’t a death monger. He wasn’t a merchant of death. He was a brilliant man who tried to instill a little bit of safety through chemistry in a rapidly changing world.
Now consider yourself. Imagine you had the same moment of awakening…
How would you refocus your life?
Would your obituary have only your name and date of death? Or would it read, “Beloved parent, sibling, child of…?” Would it contain boilerplate obituary text provided by the funeral home? Or would it say, “Enjoyed time on earth with family, friends, and the family pet, Spot? Enjoyed public speaking, reading books, and looking at cat photos on the Internet?”
Alfred Nobel died in 1896 at age 63, only eight years after that bizarre and erroneous headline of his death. If you look up his profile today on Wikipedia, he is not labeled as “The Merchant of Death.” Instead his biographical headline reads, “Alfred Nobel: Chemist. Engineer. Inventor. Businessman. Philanthropist.”
Don’t let someone else’s description of you be a misrepresentation of your life. Much like Alfred Nobel, you can change how you will be remembered.
It’s easy for us to become complacent with the labels others bestow upon us. Alfred Nobel was under no obligation to anyone to change his label - he knew his true intention, after all. Resting on his laurels, and on his pride, was certainly an option. So why even bother to dare to be something else when the world already has our path defined?
Because the world needs the true you to show up and live your true story.
The work that has come about as a result of the pursuit of a Nobel Peace Prize has changed the lives of millions - all because one man dared to choose to defy the world instead of buy into the labels it bestowed upon him. Imagine what could happen if you decided to defy the labels that don’t quite suit you. As Stephanie ended her speech, I ask the same:
What will you do to change how you’ll be remembered today?
With much love and gratitude,
Ursula Adams, MSPOD
* P.S. If, like Stephanie, you are interested in honing your public speaking skills through a series like Toastmasters, check out KeyHolder Kim Smith's new women-only public speaking series - Woman Speak.
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