“I came from a country that was created at midnight.” In the dead of the night she held the ingredients of change. At the crack of dawn she brew a revolution. “When I almost died it was just after midday.” By the evening her courage had upset the balance of Pakistan in the favor of justice. Her words formed the battleground between self-empowerment and suppression. Her words paved a road towards long-awaited hope for women and children in Pakistan, and in all corners of the globe.
Upon Malala Yousafzai’s recent graduation from her high school in Birmingham, England, and her entering the real world which she had a hand in shaping, I felt it necessary to touch back on her legacy as well as a few of the important messages she expressed. Though many of us have heard the widely-broadcasted story of Yousafzai, the remarkable young woman who is only now coming into her late teens, many of us still have not fully digested what attributes she can lead us to attain. Even if we have read headlines over headlines with her name, it is important to understand the ideas she represents as well as make an effort to implement them into our own lives. It is fitting, for she is an advocate for education, and she is the one that is teaching us the most about what we are able to do – and many times, what we are not doing. The heroic actions of Yousafzai have taught us important lessons in courage, defiance, and our own social responsibilities.
It is not rare for courage to be displayed as one of the most noble qualities, and more often than not we are familiarized with stories of heroic and brave individuals in textbooks and documentaries, but rarely are we gifted with witnessing these historical characters in our own time. The fact that Yousafzai is on the present world stage makes what she displays in her actions that much more valuable and applicable to our current situations, in our current cultures, and in our current time. And while the clock was ticking for Yousafzai, and she was aware of the threat the Taliban posed, she did not cower from their promises of destruction to her opportunities and even to her own life. Rather, she bent the bars of her cage, fought against the odds, and came out of the battle winning. Regardless of being threatened, she had diminished her fear through her strong conviction of what she knew to be right. Even after she was gunned down, she was only bent, not broken. She was battered, but not beaten. This is courage: she still had the willpower to make noise and defy when her world built a wall against her.
One of the most important qualities in a any trailblazer is recognizing the importance of defiance, and Yousafzai’s entire movement was based off of this very principle. In present-day society, defiance is assigned many negative connotations, however expelling the idea of defiance as “destructive” would simultaneously expel many opportunities for social growth and change. Additionally, another idea that must be understood in common day society is that more often than not defiance is not simply rebelling or questioning authority. Yousafzai was defiant with herself, as it is very easy to imagine that she was terrified, but she fought her fright because she knew what needed to be done. She knew that to enact justice, she needed to step out of her comfort zone. This is the second part: an individual must know when to be defiant. The value of defiance does not lie in the ability to find flaws in every experience, but the virtue of being aware of the world around oneself and recognizing when action needs to be taken. Yousafzai saw what was happening to her region and was not simply complaining, she was standing up and speaking out against what she recognized as an abuse of human rights in order to spark change. This is what differentiates what majority of society perceives as defiance and the much needed social defiance. Defiance and courage work hand-in-hand in enacting reform. One needs fiery defiance to build courage, and one needs unbreakable courage to express defiance.
What perhaps could be the most important lesson Yousafzai has taught us is where we stand in the world’s progression. She has reminded us of the immense opportunities we are all given by illustrating to us the opportunities so many do not have, and this is in turn reveals not only how many we take for granted, but how so many of us fail to take advantage of them to do something bigger than ourselves. Speaking to those living in developed countries, our luxuries give us responsibility to help those below us on the privileged ladder. If one is in the position to lend a hand, they have the moral obligation to do so. Yousafzai was in a Taliban-overrun village, facing their threat and terror every single day, and yet still found a way to work towards ensuring that social justice was reached. She could do that in her position, while many of us, including myself, in our positions with running water in every tap, hot showers, public education, possibly the computer or phone this is being read on, and a plethora of other blessings, are not fulfilling our social responsibilities of helping people to our fullest capacity. Yousafzai reveals the potential in our privilege by showing us the amount of change an individual can make in even the most grim of circumstances.
Although Yousafzai is still unable to return to Pakistan safely, her legacy has changed her country forever. Regardless of how many prizes and awards she has won, the prize of hope and change she has given others will always outweigh. While this phenomenal young woman is about to take on the rest of the world, we all must remember the qualities she embodies, and work towards spreading her message. Back in 2012, the Taliban gunman aimed for her brain and when he failed to reach it, her soul and mind reached the rest of us.
Photo Attribute: Wiki Commons