How to help young Afghan women work with their reality?

Dec 27, 2022

 

QUESTION

Hi dear Robina,

 

Hope you are doing well.

 

I mentor a few Afghan kids, 16-, 17-year-olds, who live in Afghanistan. As you know, since the collapse and return of Taliban last year, girls have been under a lot of pressure, many of them having to study surreptitiously. Yesterday, I asked a 16-year-old girl if she is enjoying her school break. She said, “No. Taliban has closed all parks and cafes. The only thing I looked forward to was to go out with my friends during the break and we can’t even go out.”

 

She then asked me, “What do you think I and girls like me should do in this situation?” This is a girl who cannot even get a passport to get out of that country, even if she had the money and admission to a school, just because Taliban says: “We won’t give you a passport.” Completely random and out of her control. She is extremely hardworking. She is so mature and thinks well. In an essay I asked her to write about what she would like to change about her hometown, she wrote, “I would change the way people think.”

 

When she asked me what to do, I felt like a prisoner is asking me how to live happily in a prison. I thought of your prison liberation project. I thought of Tibetan monks imprisoned in Chinese jails and I thought of Nelson Mandela’s years in prison.

 

I wanted to ask you, how would you answer that question? Would you tell her that she should be patient and make the best use of her time, even inside prison? The irony was that, last night when we were talking, I was going through one of your blogs I had sent her: Patience is not passive aggression. 

 

Today, another piece of news came out. Taliban has now indefinitely banned girls from entering universities. That means there is no horizon in front of this girl. Just as if she were in prison where there was no horizon.

 

I appreciate hearing your thoughts. Also, if you have a practice or book in mind that you think suits me at the moment, please let me know.

 

Much love,

Z

 

ANSWER

Dearest Z,

 

Yes, so terrible for these women. Such a hopeless situation.

 

So how to deal with something seemingly so immutable? It is exactly like being in prison, just as you say — and that means, right now, there’s just no choice. It doesn’t mean things won’t change, it doesn’t even mean that we can’t try to make things change, but right now, that’s the reality.

 

And, of course, it’s a common situation for many millions of people, in one situation or another. The choices in their lives are so so limited.

 

So the question is: if we can’t change our physical environment, if we really can’t change it right now, then is there anything we can change?

 

Yes, there is: it’s the mind, the attitude towards the situation, our interpretation of it.

 

Such easy words, but it’s a fact. Of course, it’s the essence of Buddha’s advice, but he didn’t make this up; it’s not religious. It’s common sense. And there are examples of people all over the world who show that it’s possible.

 

That wise young woman you mention: she’s right: she wants minds to change. But, of course, she means she wants other people’s minds to change! And so they should.

 

But the difficult thing here is, the major point, the one we don’t think about, is that she has to realize that she has no choice but for herself to change! It’s a bit shocking!

 

And why should she?

 

Like you said, look at Nelson Mandela — such an amazing example! He didn’t just go on about other people changing – no question, he continually talked to the world, demanding change, of course he did! — but when he was imprisoned he had to do some radical changing himself to adjust to his new life. And that means he never became a victim. He retained his dignity, his power — by changing his own mind, by accepting his reality and working within it, not resisting it.

 

This is so huge, and very hard to get initially. Because our first instinct is to say, “But I am allowed to be angry!” We’re outraged when we hear that we could consider changing our viewpoint. But it’s not moralistic. It’s practical. When we’re overwhelmed by anger, we can’t act, we’ve lost our common sense, we can’t see past our own nose.

 

There’s the woman I always mention in teachings, Sunny, who was on death row for seventeen years, totally innocent. She lost her kids, her parents were killed in a car accident, her husband was executed — his head burst into flames! — and she was stuck for years in a single cell on her own. Can you imagine!

 

Of course it was wrong! It was the most outrageous injustice. And it was more than enough to make most people completely insane. But she somewhere found within herself the resources to know that, as she said, “I had a choice, I could change my mind.” She wasn’t a Buddhist, she had no particular spiritual views; she somehow just had this extraordinary emotional intelligence that enabled her to see that she didn’t need to feel like a victim.

 

Of course, she was a victim, technically. But she and Nelson Mandela and all the other brave beings who’ve learned to know this, knew they had the power to not feel like a victim.

 

Of course, it wasn’t overnight. It was an ongoing, painful, daily process. 

 

And the interesting point with Sunny – Mandela too – because she felt empowered, she never stopped working on proving her innocence. So not being angry is a massive thing and is not passivity. The very opposite!

 

If you just become passive, and give up, and get depressed, or go crazy, full of anger and rage, what good is that? It doesn’t help. You can’t do anything.

 

So how to convey this to your wonderful young women?

 

On the one hand, they can give each other love and courage and optimism. They can grow themselves as human beings, as women; educate themselves, all of that. No one can stop them from doing that. For sure, it’ll be in secret, but it’ll be satisfying, uplifting, and empowering.

 

And with this newly developed optimism and creativity, maybe they will find ways to slowly slowly bring change to their society, to help others.

 

But it’s got to start within. This is fundamental.

 

What do you think, Z?

 

Much love,

Robina

 

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