14 year-old Courage

Warning: This is a rant

Malala Yousafzai is 14. She lives in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, a place where our family spent many lovely vacations. And while Swat is lovely for vacationers, it’s not an easy place to live by any standard.

Malala is not your typical 14-year-old. At age 11 she was writing a blog diary for the BBC under a pseudonym and two years later she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work promoting the right for girls in Pakistan to get an education.

And yesterday she was shot — shot in the head and the neck and is now fighting for life at a hospital in Peshawar. The Taliban proudly claimed the shooting; she has been on a hit list for over a year for her work promoting education and rights for girls. They saw her as a threat, a threat to an ideology and way of life, a threat to who they are. You can read about the shooting here.

It got me thinking about a lot of things. About courage — she stood so boldly for what she believed. About extremism — a 14 year-old girl is a threat in what universe? About apathy — the 14-year-olds I know are interested in boys, sex, Justin Bieber, and New Direction. I’ll take Malala any day of the week. Standing up for education is somewhat nobler than looking forward to getting birth control pills from your school nurse.

I know that’s harsh and I want it to be. 

Because I’m a little tired of this country and our whining. I’m tired of our apathy. I’m tired of watching teenagers and adults who don’t give a rat’s ass for the world they live in and I see it every day. I’m tired of us thinking we have all the answers for a world where 14 year-olds get shot for believing in education. I’m tired of the election and tired of not having worthy leaders. I’m tired of a world that condemns the attack one day, and goes back to being just as awful the next.

I’m tired of myself being a part of this because I’d like to be a little more like Malala. I’d like to be braver, I’d like to stand up boldly for what I believe, I’d like a good dose of 14 year-old courage.

How about you? What are you tired of? What do you want more courage to change? 

Readers – Thanks to CAB reader, Debbie Wood, here is a link to an interview with Malala and her father when she was eleven.


37 thoughts on “14 year-old Courage

  1. Marilyn, your blog post…along with BBC’s article about this…were just sent to my 11 and 13 year-old’s email boxes as required school reading:)


    1. Or I should say – where did the email come from? As I remember your girls had read The Breadwinner and some other books – I’m wondering how they have discussed this incident.


      1. I just sent them the email tonight after reading a second article about Malala, and then I read your blog post and attached that. I thought it would be meaningful to the girls to read the article and your response to it. They know you, so I am not concerned about the rant:) The world is so much bigger than what we see in Arizona or on the news, and I want them to understand that.


      2. You and Mike are amazing examples to me of raising global kids in a world that could be small. I love what you do and how you do it.

        Marilyn Gardner Sent from my iPhone


  2. I had hoped you’d blog about Malala! I read her story yesterday and it hit home for me… my ESL students this year are mostly all from the Middle East. Every day I learn from them. I learn what it means to sacrifice for something you believe in. To give your LIFE for something that some students in America would do anything to skip out on! I spoke with one of my students this week, and he shared that he feels like we Americans don’t know what it is to be free; we’ve grown up with freedom all of our lives. He hasn’t. He knows what it means to be oppressed…to fight and dream and sacrifice for something we consider so basic. When he spoke of freedom, it was as if he were cradling the most precious jewel in his hands. And he spoke with tears of how he would rather die than to give that up. We Americans have sold ourselves so cheaply… and we live for the basest of causes. I think it’s time we get some Malala-style grit, bravery and passion! Thanks for your ‘rant’, Marilyn…it’s refreshing to hear someone speak like you did!


    1. Love this – quoted it verbatim today on the post. Thank you Jessica – for this comment, for the “Malala-style grit” phrase you came up with and for caring so much.


  3. Oh my – no wonder my laptop was smoking this morning… (!)

    But in response to your line, “a 14 year old girl is a threat in what universe?” I can only think of Psalm 8:2 – “Through the praise of children and infants, you have established a stronghold against your enemies…” and I Corinthians 1: 27ff “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…”

    It is the 14 year old brave ones, and a million others who have none of the power or wealth of this world but still stand up for what is right and just and good and beautiful who will win in the end. But there’s going to be a lot of pain between now and the end…


  4. I hoped you’d write about Malala today. I’ve been praying for her from the moment I heard about the attack on NPR. I too pray for my own courage. And the only thing I add to your eloquent post is that even a 14-year-old girl can be a threat to those who impose their own beliefs with violence on others. As Margaret Mead reminded, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.” With her courage and commitment, Malia has already changed others and has given us her lens through which to view the people of Pakistan. May those good people rally to her side, to protect her and her family.


    1. You are so right about 14-year-olds being threats to those bent on destruction and violence. Thanks for the reminder. I’m loving hearing about the anger in Pakistan toward this. It reminds me of how the Arab Spring began – with individuals wronged to such a degree that apathy was no longer an option.


  5. Yes, rant and rant some more. I just learned of this now, here. How do we live in this world where our homes and clothes and cars and our precious time are more valuable than a courageous young girl?


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