Blind Obedience

The other day I spoke of two influential TED talks.  Here is just one more to add to the list.  I wanted to write about it separately because it has a slightly different message, because I wanted to add in Elizabeth Gilbert’s comments, and because this is the story of a teenage girl who has already lived an extraordinary life.

Do you remember Malala Yousafzai?  In 2009, Malala was writing under a pseudonym for the BBC as she described her life in the Swat Valley of Pakistan under Taliban rule.  At the time she was 11 or 12 years old.  She was later in a New York Times documentary and her advocacy for girls education continued to garner attention. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban member on her way home from school.  The international outcry thrust her immediately into the spotlight.  She was nominated and awarded several prizes for her bravery and advocacy.  She wrote a book, spoke at the United Nations, met with presidents and heads of states and has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.  This year, she will be just 17 years old.

Credit goes to Malala’s parents and her father in particular. The way she was raised defies many strong Pakastani and Muslim traditions regarding girls.  Her father Ziauddin Yousafzai spoke March 17th in Vancouver at TED2014.  I am copying Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook post directly because she writes so beautifully about what he said.  (Elizabeth Gilbert is best known as the author of Eat, Pray, Love and had her own TED talk this year.)

From Elizabeth Gilbert:


Last night at the TED conference, I wept while listening to Ziauddin Yousafzai speak about his daughter, Malala.

You have have heard of Malala Yousafzai. She is the brave young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for speaking up on behalf of education for girls.

Her father began his extraordinary speech by saying that in tribal and patriarchal societies, a man is known by his sons. “But I am one of the few fathers who is known by my daughter,” he said. “And I am proud of that.”

He spoke about how, in rural Pakistan, when a girl is born, it is never cause for celebration, but rather shame. As she grows up, she is taught only one virtue: Obedience.

Yousafzai refused to follow suit. He celebrated his daughter from the day she was born, and wrote her name in the family tree — a 300 year-old document that had never mentioned a female. He put Malala in school — not only so that she could know her own potential through education, but also for the mere political defiance of writing his daughter’s name on an enrollment form, thus signaling her very existence as a human being. (He had never seen the names of any of his 5 sisters on any document whatsoever; they simply did not exist within their own country.)

And most of all he said, “I taught her to unlearn the lesson of obedience.”

Which was such a shocking transgression that a Taliban gunman shot her for it. (I always think it’s particularly telling that she was shot in the head — shot in the MIND. Anything to shut down that female brain.)

She survived, famously, and still fights for education for girls. (She spoke last night to us from a video feed — she couldn’t come to the conference because she’s in SCHOOL — and she dazzled.)

This girl is extraordinary; this father is extraordinary.

He finished his speech by saying that people always ask him what he did to make Malala into such a strong warrior. He says it’s not what he did; it’s what he DIDN’T do: “I didn’t clip her wings.”

I was so honored and emotional to be there last night to hear this, and wanted to share it with you all.

Unlearn your obedience, women.

Teach your girls to unlearn their obedience.

And let a star shine in the crown of this father, and all parents, who guide their daughters to grow strong.


Unlearn Obedience.  My goodness!  How many times do we blindly follow the herd without even thinking?  Certainly, rules have their place and keep our society safe and sound.  I have always been a rule follower in order to be the “good girl.”  However, after reading Anatomy of the Spirit by Carolyn Myss and after seeing this particular story, I can’t help but think that many times, in order to experience soul growth, it is necessary to break away from our “tribe” and the strong hold it has on our being.  Consciously being aware of our cultural background and upbringing is important, but being able to stand up for our own true Selves is more empowering spiritually.  I am not saying that you should blatantly disobey all rules or disrespect your family.  What I am saying is that when you consciously know, deep in your heart, who you are and what is important to you and what you stand for, then you are not afraid to stand up for your Self, despite what may be going on around you.

Are there any rules or cultural norms that you believe are holding you back?  Can you acknowledge them and still be true to your Self?  It’s not easy.  Many times, it may take all of your inner strength to stand up for yourself.  Maybe not Malala-get-shot-in-the-head-international-spotlight courage, but courage none-the-less.


1 thought on “Blind Obedience”

  1. very inspiring. it is a time when many are learning who they ‘really’ are, and wanting to express that like never before. thank you for sharing. aleya

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