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On True Achievement

Awards often trigger controversies regarding the persons who receive them, and who do not. The Nobel Prize, considered as the most famous award in the world, often triggered controversies in the past. For example, one can mention Henry Kissinger getting awarded the Nobel Peace Prize or the Nobel Prize in Literature for Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. Since the late 20th Century, the world has been worshipping the free market economy. However, the Norwegian Nobel Committee ignored pioneers of alternative economics, like British Economist Joan Violet Robinson (October 31, 1903 – August 5, 1983) or Nicholas Kaldor (born Káldor Miklós, May 12, 1908 – September 30, 1986).

In fact, the root of these controversies lie in basic structures of the awards. The purpose of honouring a person with an award is to recognise and exhibit her/his merit or excellence. If merit or excellence could be measured in a completely objective manner, then there would be no need for awards. In that case, awards would not be so important. When it becomes impossible to measure an achievement in an objective manner, awards become precious.

Modern technology helps organisers find who reaches the finish line first in the 100mt sprint at the Olympics, quite easily. The difference of a second or a millisecond between the two participants decides the winner. No other judge is required to select the winner. As a recognition of her/his achievement, the winner receives a medal after the race. The entire world witnesses the achievement of the winner even before the award ceremony. Unfortunately, most of the achievements of human beings cannot be measured this way. It is still difficult to measure who is the best poet or the best military leader or who has worked really hard to ensure global peace. Hence, we have to rely on human beings (judges) to choose the best. Common people assume that judges are experts in specific fields and are the best persons to judge others’ excellence in an impartial manner. Therefore, common people believe in awards, given by the judges, while understanding the achievement or excellence of a person. Perhaps, this is the importance of an award.

The problem is, since there is no objective criterion, the award must contain personal opinions of the judges. As a result, there would always be a doubt as to whether there is any kind of biasness or partiality. Although awards can be considered as a measurement of excellence, a doubt is always there due to the opacity of that measurement. This conflict is inherent in the basic character of the award.

There is a sense of responsibility on the part of the judges to uphold the credibility and dignity of an award. Although it is difficult for common people to judge the excellence of a person, experts can give valuable opinions in this regard. When experts raise questions over the eligibility of the recipient of an award, both the award and the organisation (which gives the award) lose their importance and credibility.

It may be noted that the award-giving organisations are also a part of the society. Therefore, these organisations shall not be free from the problems that exist everywhere in the society. In some cases, the responsibility and credibility of these organisations may be weakened. Different organisations can maintain their accountability and credibility within a democratic framework. Democracy does not mean electing a Government for some years, but allowing various orgnisations to rely on real self-governance. If the society continues to abide by the conditions of loyalty, client politics becomes a common practice and common people accept this system, then the importance of an award decreases. Then, the award becomes a reward for ideological proximity or for showing loyalty. Usually, the majority of the organisations maintain loyalty to the ruler. As loyalty becomes their core capital for survival, these organisations do not bother about the importance of an award. In a country, like India, where the Political Society constantly influences the Civil Society; incompetent people often receive awards. In this case, morality and excellence are not at all respected or recognised.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee 2022. From left: Jørgen Watne Frydnes, Olav Njølstad (secretary), Kristin Clemet, Anne Enger, Asle Toje (vice chair) and Berit Reiss-Andersen (chair). © Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Geir Anders Rybakken Ørslien

Furthermore, all societies do not give equal importance to forming a proper preparatory-ground as a pre-condition to awards and recognition. The Indians, especially the Bengalis, give importance to the awardees because of their natural love for festivity. In India, there is so much talk about regional, national or international awards or honours. Success, especially at international level, is still considered exceptional in this South Asian nation. The majority of Indians discuss awards, but ignore the combination of talent and hard work that helps a person win an award. Hence, India does not invest in creating a proper infrastructure and environment to nurture talents.

Indians, among manty others, usually consider the outcome more important than the process of hard work. Instead of thinking about how success comes, they consider success as the real thing. If the value of the degree is higher than the proper education, then there shall be a tendency of cheating at the examination centres. Similarly, if the value of an award exceeds the value of the actual excellence, the process of nominating an awardee cannot be neutral or unbiased. Despite all these, winners of various awards enjoy the status of heroes in India.

Once, German theatre practitioner, playwright and poet Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht (February 10, 1898 – August 14, 1956) had said: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.” This statement is still relevant in many a way.

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