We gasped. As we watched the image of a young woman on our television and mobile screens, a loud, collective breath held one question in its suspended beat: How could she? How could she forgive? How could she be so composed and mature? How could she be so right, so young? How could she?
The gasp started like a stadium wave by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart when we heard the young Pakistani teenager answer the question: If she were confronted by the Taliban today, a group that has tried to kill her once and recently vowed again to kill her, what would she do?
She would educate.Of course, I’m talking about Malala. The peacemaker and education advocate the world knows by first name. We know her in a way that is personal even if we’ve never met her in person. We know her in a way that haunts us, transforms us, calls us into a trance of compassion we secretly wish would never fade away.
Whether her enemy ever succeeds does not matter. Her message is imprinted on the consciousness of man and woman; it is forever. She is ubiquitous.It has been several hours since I watched the clip of Malala on The Daily Show. I didn’t watch the original airing; rather, I had followed the trail of a link that seemed to suddenly infiltrate my Facebook feed.
Soon, hashtags and handles would surround it like an army of ants, and the interview swelled across the web of fiber optics, electrical waves, and cable lines crisscrossing America. And I thought of Miley. And me.I thought of our stupid, youthful choices. Of our vanity and arrogance. Of our ballads and badlands of wasted opportunity. And it won’t stop. The contrast is too stark.
Laid bare against our universal bones is the reality Malala reminds us exists: If we judge another, we judge ourselves by the same standard. We are no better. They are no worse. And I’ve been judging Miley. And me. The coarseness, the crassness, the cost.I’ve been looking down upon this 20-year old who made the decision to undress herself, to murder her former television character, to romp with stuffed bears with her rump up, down all around and everywhere, to wag her tongue in delight as the shock and horror of it all waxes across the country, only to retreat into a tortoise-like shell of self-deemed victimhood, blaming youth, celebrity, lost years, lost privacy, and lost self.
All the while, that voice, her voice, the one that can sing unencumbered, has been hidden beneath a veil of trying to be cool and edgy, peeking out here and there but taking second stage to the T&A show. I’ve been trying to look away. But I can’t.
I could easily blame Twitter, the media, her publicity strategy, but that’s not pinpointing the source. Really, it’s within. In judging her, I’ve been judging myself too.Her choices have dredged up the 20-year old choices I thought buried, the ones made by a mistake-riddled self.
How many times, I would ask myself. How many times are you going to blame doing something stupid like drinking too much, swearing too much, disrobing too much, on being young and dumb? Our culture so easily chalks up indiscretions to youth’s charming mistakes. Oh, he/she’ll grow out of it. What a travesty.
Thousands of miles away in Taliban-held villages where schools are bombed, girls’ faces are burned with acid, and mouths are murdered by guns–women’s voices often go unheard. Forever. And we just fritter ours away. Why? Because women in America are not taught the value of our voice. And if it is taught, we are not taught how to hear it and how to live it.
What if Miley had used her platform of celebrity to harness Malala’s message of education instead of Molly’s ecstasy trip?What if we all had been taught to compose ourselves at age 14 and age 16 to speak our truth, to walk that truth regardless the danger? What if we taught our nieces and daughters to do the same? What if we supplanted our ‘Young and Dumb Excuse’ culture curriculum with ‘Choices and Compassion Education?’
Not the kind we read from books, but rather, the teaching of universal truth. And that is this: We all make choices. These choices affect us, and go out into the world to affect others. Directly, indirectly, these choices form the perimeter of our world.
Do we like the choices we’ve made?I wish I could redo some of mine. But I can’t. I wish Miley could redo hers. But she can’t.
We can only stand here and now in the truth of it all: We had other choices. We were born with them. Our freedom to speak and be heard is unassailable. We pretend hardships obscure it yet we have it without having to ask. We forget, or turn a blind eye to lady liberty. Perhaps we’re so accustomed to her, we don’t realize we swim in a pool of freedoms others pray to sip.
In America, a woman’s enemy is herself. So what are we going to do? Throw proverbial shoes at our 20 year olds–past and present? No. Let’s educate us.
Alivia Tagliaferri is an author and documentary filmmaker. She penned Beyond the Wall: The Journey Home and is currently directing Power of One: Preventing Suicide in America. Follow Alivia on Twitter @authoralivia.