Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Journey of Discovery

Knowing someone who is a 100 year old chain smoker does not prove that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer. The world is mostly random. A magical sprinkle that mixes things up just to make it interesting. I like to think that things don't happen out of malice or good will, they just happen. We make the best of them. That doesn't mean we can't work to put the odds in our favour.

I used to believe that smart people couldn't be racist, sexist, homophobic or bigoted. The truth will out. Learning about Wouter Basson made me doubt this. Here was an incredibly intelligent man who had also been an agent of evil. The truth is that things are more complex than that. What we believe and how we feel is made up of so many parts we don't understand. Who we interact with. How we react to situation. What random sprinkle happens to dust us. We like stories, and the stories of evil people who were really smart may tempt us to believe that education doesn't help. I don't believe that is the case.

I had always understood the Nobel prize to be awarded for a significant contribution to humanity. I knew of the problem that awarding it late in someones career could sometimes give them additional notoriety and a louder microphone at a point when their thoughts had veered off track. When their thoughts harmed more than helped. When Obama won it raised a new point for me. Sometimes the award was made in hope rather than in recognition. It was an investment in promise. That felt less comfortable for me... but the award isn't democratic, and there is no reason it should be. It is unashamedly in favour of certain principles and the committees who award it go after supporting those in the way they feel best. Still, I am not sure I would have done the same.

Then this year Malala won. I didn't know much about her but the cause she stands for is one I care about. I do believe in education as a tool for peace. Despite Mr Basson, I do think education is a powerful tool against the cancer of ignorance. I also think that a society which denies girls access to education is unacceptable. The controversy here is that she is 17. Again, the Nobel Prize seems to be an investment in potential. Is it an unfair burden to place on someone so young? Well, after reading her book I think it is very clearly a cause she is willing and able to commit to.

The book makes it clear that her ideas are not completely formed. It makes it clear that she is still young, but she is hungry. Her thoughts will develop. Her mind will mature. She will iron out contradictions. She will be embarrassed about some things she thought. Anyone who learns anything of value will feel the same. She will debate. She will read. She will listen. That is what education is, and I for one am glad that the random sprinkle left this symbol, not of an extraordinary girl, but as a symbol of every girl and of every boy and of a love of learning.

Congratulations Malala and good luck on your journey of discovery.

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