Malala Yousafzai is an old soul, wise woman in the body of a now 16 year old. I first heard of her exactly a year ago when the story of her being targeted and shot by the Taliban while returning home from school hit the news and internet circuit. A year later, this amazing teen having survived this brutal attack to shut her up and instill fear in others to remain silent, is more outspoken and more of an activist and voice for oppressed and suppressed girls than ever before. Malala has written a book: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot By the Taliban has just been published.
I plan to read it.
I am a retired educator who has always believed in what I call “the infinite wisdom of children.” I have learned over the years, that when given the opportunity, guidance, support and conditions to thrive and make right choices, children will not only rise to the occasion and do what is right, but will stand up against peer pressure and conventional thinking. I have witnessed children standing up to what they innately know to be true, just and right and not succumb to the pressures of what others want them to say, do or be.
Malala Yousafzai takes this to another level.
In October 2012, a Taliban terrorist boarded Malala’s school bus and demanded Malala to identify herself. When she did, she was shot in the head. Whereas, this act of brutal cowardice was intended to silence this young woman and anyone else who dared to speak out against this terrorist organization, the results were quite the opposite.
Malala survived and she is ever more the outspoken critic of oppression and suppression of girls and women’s rights. The assassination attempt to “disappear” this young woman has had the exact opposite effect. She is very much in the media limelight. She has been the recipient of women’s and human rights awards, was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize and now is traveling the world promoting her book and equality for all……..
What I wonder is how does a child from an increasingly intolerant and repressive culture stand up to the powers that be? How does a young girl have the courage and fearlessness to speak out against the suppression of girls’ and womens rights? What is it that allows such a young person to take these risks? What is it that makes leaders and visionaries and change agents? How does an ordinary person become an extraordinary light in the world?
Maybe part of the answer is that when one is younger, the dangers may not seem as real or imminent. Perhaps it is the innocence of childhood, not quite understanding how cruel and vicious the world can be.
Then there is the influence of someone – a positive role model – someone who sets the bar above and beyond what the culture or society accepts. A person who speaks out and behaves with integrity, truth, conviction and fearlessness. Someone who does not just give lip service, but “walks the talk.” For Malala, I believe it was her activist father who encouraged his daughter to learn; to remain in school while those around her were being shuttered and closed down……the girls becoming prisoners in their own homes.
And then there is the possibility that some people are born with or maybe learn to have the capacity and the ability to rise above themselves. Something greater than themselves calls to them and self preservation gives way to the greater cause. We saw this with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi…………and now 16 year old Malala Yousafzai.
I usually write about women, growing older and wise woman teachings and lessons. I write about the gifts and challenges of growing older, tapping into women’s greatness and building supportive communities of women. I bring older and younger generations together as an opportunity to bridge gaps and increase the dialogue between the ages. Normally I wouldn’t write about a 16 year old girl, but I chose to make an exception in this case because Malala exemplifies the very best qualities of women. She is brave, compassionate, and stands up for what she believes in. She tells her story with conviction and honesty. She reaches across generations encouraging, educating and inspiring activism.
After Malala was shot, women and girls from all over Pakistan protested this atrocity. They carried signs and shouted, “I am Malala..” As a 66 year old woman, I identify with the plight of women and girls fighting oppression, suppression, visibility and equality. I understand those who care more for a cause than for themselves. I have been molded and influenced by those before me and around me who have set standards and codes for living that I have strived for throughout my life. For you see, when it comes down to it, I, too am Malala.
By Roberta Teller
Betty Friedan got it right when she said, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” I cannot remember a time in my life when I was happier and more fulfilled than I am right now in my 66th year of life. Retired from my 35+ years in education, I now have more opportunities available to me than ever before. Unburdened by NOT having to adhere to a work week of commuting, earning my paycheck, squeezing in a workout at the gym and running myself ragged on my days off to get all my errands done, I am now free to explore the world however I want. I have the options to do whatever I want, when I want or quite honestly, I can sit on my ass all day and do nothing……
I choose to pursue what I derive great meaning from and dive in.
I’m one of those people who thrives on feeling fully alive. What feeds that aliveness is being connected to myself, my loved ones and the world. And now, more than any other time in my life, I have the opportunity to do all of this. I have the time to nourish myself with ample rest, relaxation and exercise. I have more time (never enough) to spend with loved ones. And my world has been broadened by travel to foreign places expanding my personal horizons, mastering new skills, meandering through creative projects, and moving out of my comfort zone by doing things that I’ve never done before.
And it’s not to say that I haven’t had my challenges. I have had some health issues that have required surgical procedures, hospitalization and months long recuperation. I have lost loved ones and some dear friends have died way too young. People I care about are getting sick and suffering. I look at my body sometimes and wonder, “Who are you?”
And yet, I find strength – some comes directly from lessons learned from the myriad of experiences of my life. Some strength comes from the wisdom of those around me and honestly much of it arises from a wellspring of understanding, empathy, compassion and humor that I am able to offer myself when the going gets tough or the road becomes a little rocky.
To me, when Betty Friedan says, “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength,” she offers us a view of growing older that is rich with possibilities and ripe for personal growth. And to me, what is much more important than being a youth or young, is that feeling of being alive and vital coupled with the wisdom of life’s lessons and learnings and understandings. Some say, “youth is wasted on the young.” I say, “Young’ums, the best is yet to come.”
By Roberta Teller
Recently I wrote that aging gracefully is an inside job meaning that the internal process of tapping into our wise woman wisdom creates a beauty and majesty of spirit and energy that supersedes the superficial manifestations of our bodies. Ours is a youth oriented culture obsessed with the young. We are perpetually bombarded with artificially reconstructed older faces and the overly thin and air brushed images on the big screens and magazines. Whether a woman chooses to have plastic surgery or not, is an individual choice, hopefully made with clarity, thoughtfulness and enough money to pay for the procedure outright. Of course, we all want to feel good about ourselves. Of course, we all want to look our very best and have a swagger in our step as we strut our stuff…….that’s a no brainer. But……..
What is so much more important than the number of wrinkles or age spots is creating a culture where women themselves grow into an appreciation of their own individual and collective inner greatness. We, the boomer women, must become the change agents ourselves where we not only tap into our individual and collective voices, but it is incumbent upon us to SHOUT OUT our messages, visions, and life lessons. We must reclaim our long lost tradition of being the heart and soul of the community – the historian, the healer, the teacher, the advisor, the voice of a long life of lessons learned and wisdom gained.
While it is a daunting task to think about challenging and restructuring a very ingrained system that does not innately cherish and revere or seek out elder woman wisdom, I would like to suggest some first steps…..steps that begin first with an inner journey into ourselves.
1. SELF AWARENESS: Ask yourself: What are your gifts? What life lessons have you learned? What stories can you share about your life?
2. PAY ATTENTION TO THE SUBTLE AND MAYBE NOT SO SUBTLE DYNAMICS OF THE FAMILY, SOCIAL, BUSINESS, EDUCATIONAL GROUPS YOU ATTEND Who does most of the talking? Do some people monopolize the conversation? Is everyone engaged? Are you? Why or why not?
3. SHARE YOUR WISE WOMAN STORIES AND LESSONS: Tell your stories. Share your life lessons with friends, family, your children. Leave a written legacy of your life.
4. ENCOURAGE OTHER WOMEN TO SHARE THEIR STORIES AND LIFE LESSONS: Invite friends over with the express purpose of a story telling night. Ask elder women to tell their stories…..
5. WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT, YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL FOR EVERY GIRL OR WOMAN YOU MEET: Be aware that your views and opinions about growing older are being expressed covertly, nonverbally and through actions, attitudes and conversations. What messages are you actually sending?
6. TALK ABOUT GROWING OLDER: Let’s bring the topic of aging into mainstreamconversation. How is it different from the perspective of a 20 year old or an octogenarian? Ask yourself and others of all ages, “HOW DO YOU WANT TO AGE?” Let’s begin to demystify growing old by talking about it, taking power around it through right choices, and bringing it into our culture through awareness, conversations and visibility.
I believe it is essential for each and every one of us to take the time and make a commitment to ourselves to explore the richness of our own lives as well as to affirm and claim the lessons we have learned, and to honor the gifts that we have bestowed upon the world.
And it is through our own self acceptance and appreciation of who we are that our inner radiance will glow ever more brightly and we can move to shine this light on the world.
By Roberta Teller