“Let us pick up our books and pens; they are our most powerful weapons,” Malala Yousafzai told the United Nations General Assembly on July 12, 2013. Her compelling 17-minute speech advocated for peace, education and equality around the world so that schools and education can be “every child’s bright future.”
What is especially remarkable about her comments, aside from wisdom well beyond her just sixteen years, is that on October 9, 2012, she was shot in the forehead by the Taliban and left for dead. Rather than the Taliban silencing her, she said at the UN, “weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
Malala paid tribute to all those who have fought for their rights: “Their right to live in peace; their right to be treated with dignity; their right to equal opportunity; their right to be educated.”
Her path to activism for education, and for girls and women to have a voice, began long before she was a teenager. Having grown up in an environment of political violence, she knows peace is essential for education.
Extremists, she said, are afraid of books and pens, and also women, change and equality.
Her life experience so far pushing against intolerance is another dramatic illustration that the purpose of intolerance is to silence. It barricades itself and everything it dominates in ignorance. Pens and books are powerful steps in breaking through intolerance.
Her leadership journey is launched, fueled by purpose, resilience and a passion that children be protected from brutality and harm, able to change themselves and the world through free, compulsory education.
Dignity, equal opportunity, education….Malala reminds us, “We cannot all succeed if half of us are held back.”
Gael O’Brien July 15, 2013
Gael O’Brien is The Ethics Coach columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Gael is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine; her June 2013 column looks at leadership vulnerabilities of departing OSU president Gordon Gee.