Yesterday, I finished reading a book that has been on my “to read” list for ages. It was ‘I Am Malala’, the memoir of Malala Yousafzai; an advocate for girls education who, while on her way home from school in Pakistan, was shot by the Taliban.
Part one is titled ‘Before the Taliban’. Her life has been forever divided into before she was attacked, and after. As I considered this before and after, I realized it was not as significant as I originally thought. Malala’s life is not divided into before she started advocating for girl’s rights to education, and after.
She chose, from the very beginning, her stance on things. Her father’s school for girls, which she attended, was incredibly important to her. “All I want is to go to school,” she writes. “And that is not a crime. That is my right.” Malala chose what she knew was right even before it was an issue. And when her beliefs were questioned, by the Taliban who said that girls should not go to school, they did not waiver.
To quote Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States: those who stand for nothing fall for anything. What Malala stood for was so close to her heart that nothing – not even being shot in her head – could silence her, or make her fall.
My English teacher likes to say, “No fence sitting. It is prickly, and it hurts.” I think of these words often. As I read the news, I try to see both sides of a problem – and then I wonder which side I am on.
It’s difficult to pick a side, because sometimes both sides have viable points. Sometimes the pros and cons are equal. But I know that if I don’t pick my side for myself, someone else will pick it for me. No fence sitting. If I don’t choose what I stand for, if I stand for nothing, I will fall for anything.
This being said, I don’t have an opinion on everything. I mean, you could talk to me for hours about stocks and bonds and the only opinion I will have is that they’re not that interesting (to me, at least). But I would still listen.
One can be opinionated, yet still open-minded. In fact, that’s the way things should be. Just because I have decided upon a specific side of something that I support, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pay the other side any attention. That’s being close-minded. And I think being close-minded is the root of a lot of the world’s problems.
Malala, of course, was (and is) a huge advocate for girl’s rights to education. Because she believes so strongly in this, and because she was shot by the Taliban, you would think that she would have no respect for ‘the other side’ of her argument. But she does.
Considering what she would do if she ran into a member of the Taliban, Malala considered hitting him with a shoe. But then, she realized something. She wrote, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, there is no difference between him and you. You must not treat others with cruelty. You must fight him with peace and dialogue.”
Though firm in what she believes in, Malala would not use violence against the force opposing her – the force that shot her. And if that doesn’t show that you can have a strong opinion and also be open-minded, I don’t know what does.