As a student of history I have learned to practice creative empathy when confronted with people behaving in questionable ways. Part of the challenge of history is trying to crawl inside another person’s context and figure out why they did what they did. This is not a way of absolving bad behavior, but can be a way of comprehending it.
A similar task is required of us in our day-to-day lives; empathy is an ongoing call. So I have tried as hard as I can to imagine the motivations for pseudo-religious terrorists who want to prevent girls from having an education.
The kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria was troubling to me, as I’m sure it was for you. Education is only a small grievance of the offending radical group, but it is the one they have chosen to broadcast to the world. Despite all my efforts at understanding their motivations, I can’t for the life of me understand what the end game is.
When all the women are back in the kitchen where they belong, having as many babies as their bodies will allow and covered from head to toe, when the extremists are in power and have imposed strict behavioral codes on everyone, when the West has been conquered and their peculiar distortion of Islam is the law of all lands, what next? What is worth living for when all expression, curiosity and exploration have been abolished?
Education has been one of the great joys of my life. It has allowed me to understand myself and my world and it has inspired me to create in all avenues of my life. Without it I don’t believe we’d have great works of art or inspired oratory. At the risk of exposing the limits of my empathy, I can’t imagine enjoying a world without the benefits of learning.
Perhaps in my own experience of being set on fire by knowledge – of becoming a mouthy, dangerous woman – I can start to see why education is so frightening. But I hope that my angels shout louder than my demons, and the fruits of my learning enhance the world. May the kidnapped girls be allowed to do the same.