On July 12, the day that Malala Yousafzai turned 16, she spoke at the United Nations and made the following appeal:
Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices.
The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. … let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.
One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.
The Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, where she comes from, was an idyllic scenic place when I visited there 13 years ago. Then, in 2008, the Taliban took control. For her brave advocacy of education for girls, Malala was shot by Taliban gunmen and seriously injured.
Compare this girl to the young in Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun of June 8 reported that according to a survey of 412 high school (second-year) and university (third-year) students, only 30 percent of the university students and 40 percent of the high school students wished to work in a global setting in the future.
Whether this is because they are so content with peace and comfort at home, or because they have the lost the drive to venture out to the world, this “inward-looking” tendency is not encouraging.
The need for “Global Human Resources Development” has been a hot topic for some time in Japan. A focus of the debate has been the lack of people equipped with the communication skills to vie on a par with their international counterparts on the global scene, especially in comparison with China and South Korea.
It would not be quite fair to place the bulk of the burden of fostering such people on English-language teachers at school. Linguistic skills are only a tool for communication. Of equal importance is the global mindset required for global communication. The first component of the mindset is openness. I would like to see young people break out of their shell and go out into the world to gain experiences in interacting with people of different social and cultural backgrounds.
The second component is respect for diverse values and humanity. As you talk with someone from another part of the world, you should not spare any effort to understand your interlocutor’s values, hopes and concerns and to try to put yourself in his or her shoes.
The lack of sensitivity in this regard has resulted in “gaffes” by some prominent Japanese personalities, as was the case recently with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso’s comment on the need to “emulate” the Nazi regime’s approach to the Weimar Constitution, or with Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose’s reference to “fights” and “classes” in Islamic countries in the context of Tokyo’s rivalry with Istanbul in the bid for hosting the 2020 Olympics. I would like to see the young develop a feel for the weight of words through their actual interaction with people from foreign countries.
During my tenure as ambassador, the situation in Pakistan was fluid and fraught with danger after the 9/11 simultaneous terrorist attacks in the United States.
In the ensuing turmoil in Pakistan, many people have been daily exposed to death threats. Some are resigned to such a plight, while some who bravely stand up, determined to bring about change.
Though English is not her native language, Malala’s voice has resonated with the world, and she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013. This is because of the strength of her motivation and passion forged in adversity.
The young in Japan should learn from Malala’s story that there is a whole wide world out there where people cannot take it for granted that they will live safely tomorrow. The young, for their part, should think about what they would do if they found themselves in such a plight.
You can learn from her that if you believe firmly in something and speak out with conviction, even if you are a teenage girl, you can be heard and influence the world. That would open the way for you to act on the global stage in the future.
Sadaaki Numata is is former ambassador to Pakistan and Canada. This article originally appeared on the website of the English-Speaking Union of Japan.