“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful”: words spoken by Malala Yousafzai in her address to Harvard University on September 27, 2013 as the Harvard Foundation presented her with the Humanitarian award. Malala is a pillar for human rights and the advancement for girl-child education around the world. With a passion to advance education in her home country, Pakistan, Malala began to write a blog for the BBC Urdu service. To protect her identity, she used a pseudonym. Her rising activism led her to be awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and to be nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. But, Taliban leaders schemed to kill her in response to her rising influence. Both Malala and her father’s passion to advance education withstood death threats from the Taliban and soon enough, Malala’s identity as the author of the BBC blog was revealed in a documentary made for the New York Times. Then, on October 9, 2012, as Malala was on her bus going home from school, Malala was forced to identify herself to a masked gunman who shot her with a single bullet that went through her head, neck, and shoulder. Her survival and her resilience during a long recovery process inspired people around the world to stand up against injustice.
After her attack, Malala went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2014. Her influence allowed her to create the Malala Fund which raises awareness of the social and economic constraints on girl-child education and which empowers girls around the world to raise their voices, to realize their potential, and to demand change.
Malala is one of many voices that are speaking up for the silent. With a story such as hers, and so many others around the world, we should ask ourselves how we can use our voices to affect change and how we can speak up for those who may find it hard to speak up for themselves. In the United States, our freedom of speech is protected by our US Constitution, except when it infringes upon the rights of others. But, all in all, whether our speech is enlightening and encouraging, or even destructive and offensive, we, as US citizens, are granted free speech, a right that is not granted to all citizens of all countries around the world. How, then, with the power of this right that is granted to us, do we advocate for, do we speak for, those who find themselves silenced by their governments, by their social institutions, or even by their own peers? How do we love the silent?
Some instances may require us to defend this right subtly, mundanely, and habitually, as if it were an everyday task. Singers, whether they have just begun their careers, whether they are dedicated to advancing their careers, or whether they have been experienced in their profession for years, undergo voice exercises. They do not stop efforts to improve or sustain the strength and technicality of their voices once they have “made it”. These voice exercises are intended for singers in all stages of their careers in order to strengthen vocal cords, improve transitioning techniques, relieve tensions, maintain healthy singing practices, and prolong the impact of their voices. In the same way, then, that singers routinely check in on and improve their vocal capacity, we too should continually work to grow the strength and influence of our voices. We should be so accustomed to practicing and defending our voices, refining and affirming our voices, that it becomes second-nature to us. You see, each of us has a distinct voice and a voice that we can use to affect change throughout the world. We should locate our voices, we should strengthen our voices, and we should see where our voices carry so that those voices can have the greatest impact. When we begin to know the impact of our voices, we will be able to use our voices to help others, to speak for those who find their voices silenced, and to use the stories that our voices tell in order to empower others. You see, these daily voice lessons of ours have a far greater impact than on our own lives; our voice lessons enable our speech to be strengthened so that their fortitude can send waves of peace, assurance, and justice throughout the earth.
Other instances, then, may require us to use our voices bravely and boldly. At times, we may find that we need to scream and yell; to advocate for the equity of others and to defend the human rights of others. In these circumstances, we use the privilege of living in a country that defends our right to free speech in order to extend that right to those around the world. Certain times may call us to use those techniques in which we have strengthened our own voices in order to fight for the voices of others to be heard amid oppression, intolerance, and injustice. We may be called to allow our voices to carry and to send shock waves to other parts of the world in order that the force of those waves will inspire others to find and use their own voices in times of tribulation. It is the strength of the collectivity of our voices, then, that has the capacity to sustain life, to foster hope, to affect change, to inspire courageous acts, and to defeat terror, oppression, and injustice.
When we use our voices to locate and inspire the voices of others around the world, we form a chorus of voices whose influence cannot be contained. With a chorus determined to affect change and to advocate for the rights of others, the unity that sings of rightness, of justice, of equity, and of restoration is undeniable, and with such an undeniable force as that, the song of peace and of the reconciliation of hopes and dreams plays so that the whole world can hear. As we draw upon the strength inherent within us and the strength inherent within one another, let us use our voices so boldly and so loudly that we sing of this song of peace, empowerment, and justice to ends of the earth.