Malala Yousafzai And Kailash Satyarthi: Contrasting Approaches Come Together for Peace. (OR: OMG OMG OMG Malala Wins Nobel Peace Prize!)

Waiting for my coffee to brew at dawn this morning I got an instant jolt scanning news on my phone when I saw the headline Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi Are Awarded Nobel Peace Prize. My heart did somersaults and my brain thought: OMYGOD. OMYGOD. OMYGOD. OMYGOD.  I almost didn’t need the coffee anymore. This was big. And who is Kailash-something-something??

As I speed-read the news, I learned more about the winners and why both of them TOGETHER make a thoughtful choice by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. It’s also a phenomenal teachable moment, a study in contrasts that complement and demonstrate the world indeed does have the capacity for peace, despite news headlines that usually point to the contrary.

Read the entire Nobel Peace Prize announcement, to learn the thinking behind the choice, where it’s explained the award goes to: “Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. … The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

This choice carries important lessons for thinking about the ingredients for peace:

  1. All ages can make impact: At 17, Malala is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner by decades. (The next youngest Peace Prize winner was Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, who was 32 at the time, also a Muslim, a woman, and from the Middle East.) Mr. Satyarthi is 60. Easily old enough to be Malala’s grandfather, he has spent decades in patient service and peaceful protest for children’s rights in the Gandhian tradition.
  2. Women and men need to work together: When women and men work together to advance peace, education and everyone’s rights, we all benefit. It’s like the two complementary wings of a bird, working together for humanity to soar. With her father’s encouragement, Malala found her voice on behalf of girls’ education rights, and she has “soared” ever since.

    “The world of humanity has two wings — one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.” (Abdul-Baha, from a talk in 1911)

  3. Respect the diversity of faiths: As the statement points out, the two Laureates are Hindu and Muslim, working toward similar goals, peacefully. For decades, extremists and leaders have fought against each other, but they have never spoken for most people. We all want the same thing.
  4. Respect the diversity of nationalities: Though neighbors (and sometimes kin), Indians and Pakistanis have been embroiled in conflict for decades. Again, we can do better. We want peace.
  5. Respect the diversity of approaches: After blogging and advocating for girls’ education rights, Malala survived a violent attack then became an inspiring spokesperson on a global level during her dramatic recovery; she is still in high school. Mr. Satyarthi gave up his career as an electrical engineer over three decades ago to start Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, leading the way “to eliminate child trafficking and child labour in India.”
  6. You don’t have to be famous; or get famous for something that matters: Malala is one of the most recognized faces and names in the world, earning her “celebrity” by her courage and eloquence. Satyarthi, while spending decades on the issue, is a virtual unknown outside his country and cause, showing you don’t need to be famous to make impact or get noticed eventually

As we learn more about the Nobel choice I’m sure there are so many more lessons to take away from the inspiring, contrasting example of these two incredible lives. Taken together, I read another message between the lines: that we are ALL needed to build peace. We need commitment, as these two heroes have shown, and we need to respect that our differences add to the staying power, possibility, and strength of peace on a global scale. Congratulations Malala and Mr. Satyarthi! And may our own efforts make you proud.

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