Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Serenity of Barack Obama

In the 2-1/2 minute clip below from NBC Nightly News on Nov. 5, 2008, this word is used by Doris Kearns Goodwin to describe Michelle and Barack Obama: Serenity.

Kearns says, "There's a serenity there that I think both of them share in their relationship. . ."

Now, as a recovering alcoholic I am well versed in the wonderful Serenity Prayer (although I need to more frequently follow those simple words). But I love to look up words, even those that I'm familiar with, to see them in new ways and I'm still having loads of fun with the Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus that I blogged about some months ago. So I ran
Serenity through that program. The Visual Thesaurus is described as "an interactive dictionary and thesaurus which creates word maps that blossom with meanings and branch to related words." Words that blossomed and branched out from Serenity were: peacefulness, peace of mind, peace, heartsease, ataraxis, repose, tranquility, placidity, quiet. Additionally, the sidebar at the Visual Thesaurus offered Serenity descriptive phrases including Steadiness of mind under stress; a disposition free from stress or emotion; the absence of mental stress or anxiety.

This wasn't the first time I'd heard the word Serenity applied to describe Barack Obama in the last 24 hours in commentaries and interviews. I wondered if there was a wider recognition of this quality in our President-elect and googled "comments about Obama using serenity." Below is a sampling of what I found from around the country and the world.

from The Seattle Times, Oct. 21, 2008
The serenity of Barack Obama, by David Brooks - syndicated columnist

We've been watching Barack Obama for two years now, and in all that time there hasn't been a moment in which he has publicly lost his self-control. This has been a period of tumult, combat, exhaustion and crisis. And yet there hasn't been a moment when he has displayed rage, resentment, fear, anxiety, bitterness, tears, ecstasy, self-pity or impulsiveness.

Some candidates are motivated by something they lack. For LBJ, it was respect. For Bill Clinton, it was adoration. These politicians are motivated to fill that void. Their challenge once in office is self-regulation. How will they control the demons, insecurities and longings that fired their ambitions?

But other candidates are propelled by what some psychologists call self-efficacy, the placid assumption that they can handle whatever the future throws at them. Candidates in this mold, most heroically FDR and Ronald Reagan, are driven upward by a desire to realize some capacity in their nature. They rise with an unshakable serenity that is inexplicable to their critics and infuriating to their foes.

from Spiegel Online International, Nov. 5, 2008
America's New Leader: The Serenity of Barack Obama, by Gregor Peter Schmitz
He's a candidate who likes to read the philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr. And one who doesn't get sweat stains on his ironed white shirt, even in the sweltering heat of Nevada or Indiana. He has studied the Socratic Method applied at US law schools -- the principle of eliciting truth through the astute interplay of questions and answers. His wonderfully composed speeches rarely betray a sense of humor. He's evidently a devoted family man and a proud father.

from Other Jones - Journal, by Deena Stryker,
Jul. 14, 2008
Obama's Serenity
The most significant thing about Barack Obama’s interview with Fareed Zacharia yesterday on CNN, was his serenity. Obama’s detractors have called his noble demeanor a suit. But nobility is a manifestation of inner strength, and as was plain to see yesterday, strength brings serenity. American’s yearn for an end to the shrill hype that has characterized the political stage, and Zacharia’s Sunday GPS brings discussions and interviews to a new level. Yesterday, his firmness delineated a space where Obama’s equanimity could flower.

In reading these commentaries I am filled with gratitude for the outcome of the election, and yes, I'm filled with serenity as a result.



Wayfaring Wanderer said...

That little video gave me goosebumps! I am ecstatic!!

I recently tried the trial version of that visual thesaurus, it is way cool. Do you have a free version from somewhere or did you pay for it?

Darlene said...

Serenity is an attribute that I have longed for all my life. I am still struggling to achieve it when things go wrong. I agree that it is a mark of strength. It is also a mark of a person who has complete self confidence.

Barack and Michelle Obama are a remarkable couple and we are so very fortunate that they will be the next occupants of the White House.

Buddha said...

Going from Bush who is a walking, ticking bomb to Obama, what a trip!
Here is another word for you:

Melinda said...

Lydia--what a wonderful tribute to President-Elect Obama. I so agree with you that he has a serenity about him that I believe our country so desperately needs right now (as well as other qualities such as high intelligence, creativity, and thoughtfulness).

As you know, I am also in recovery and the simple serenity prayer saved me so many times. Whenever I would start to feel overwhelmed, I would go back to the simplicity of the prayer--concentrating on changing the things that I could and letting go those things that I could not. I really believe that all people, both in recovery and not, should say that prayer every day.

Take care,


rachael said...

Following the serenity prayer is definitely easier said than done, huh?
I think the word serenity is enormously appropriate in describing our new president-elect. It seems like everyone is breathing a little easier now that both campaigns have finally ended, and I think that people are beginning to understand that all we can do now is work together. It's not worth the arguments and the fighting anymore; Obama has won and peace is coming to America. I have hope (:

Honour said...

what an interesting compilation of readings about serenity and obama -- thanks for your research, Lydia!

Lydia said...

Wayfaring Wanderer,
I agree that the video clip was a thrilling piece about Michelle Obama.
I did pay for the Visual Thesaurus. It's normally $19.95 but I got $2.00 off because I'm a subscriber to "Wordsmith A.Word.A.Day," a free email newsletter that is wonderful. The link:

Well, I think it's a given that if someone never longed for Serenity they surely would not ever have it. So longing for it, being aware of the benefits gained from having it must be a part of the path to attaining it.

It really is such a contrast. I think much of the world is feeling relieved about the outcome.

You added some more great descriptions for Obama. High intelligence is high on my list, especially after eight years of Bush making it cool to be stupid (in some circles).
I agree that the Serenity Prayer can be life-changing, life-enhancing, life-soothing - and I should practice it daily.

"....I think that people are beginning to understand that all we can do now is work together. It's not worth the arguments and the fighting anymore." I think you're absolutely right. That was a serene observation and beautifully said.

O, you are welcome and thanks for appreciating what I gathered together. I think one perfect picture of Serenity is that one you shared with me of you during your time in Africa. The feeling of that shot has stayed with me.

Lily Hydrangea said...

This is fascinating, about Obama's serenity, something I never thought about with regard to him. It is true though, he is cool, but very warm at the same time.

sharryb said...

I haven't seen much of Michelle Obama, so this clip was delightful. I'm so looking forward to how she will make herself known to us in the coming eight years. And her brother is right here in Oregon as the basketball coach for Oregon State University! As an Oregon State Beaver I feel I'm sort of related to the Obamas.

Lydia said...

Hi! Good to have you here and thanks for your comment.

I expect that Michelle Obama will become one of the most important first ladies. It is really cool that her brother is the basketball coach at OSU, and so fun that you have that connection. Did you see the interview that Portland news did with him when he arrived at the airport after being with the Obamas on stage in Chicago on election night? He was excited, but in a cool way....

cathwrynn said...

"And yet there hasn't been a moment when he has displayed rage, resentment, fear, anxiety, bitterness, tears, ecstasy, self-pity or impulsiveness."

how strange that ecstasy shoule be lsited amongst these other- so called negative- emotions. And how interesting that a leader's emotional control rather than emotional fluidiity, appropriate expressiveness and intelligence should be lauded.

they seem like a wonderful couple, and like great leaders- I really hope that they can manifest serenity in international relations too. Peace would be wonderful for all of us in the world... x

Lydia said...

You're right! It is weird that ecstasy would be listed in the negative column. It's a given that he isn't feeling ecstatic these days; there has been a turn against him that perplexes and dismays me. I do think he has the capacity to rise above the fray, but it would be nice to see more support for him - given that George W. Bush enjoyed years of blind support and didn't deserve an ounce of it.



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