Recently I was reading the book “I Am Malala.” It is the memoir of a young woman who was shot by militants for advocating for the rights of girls in Pakistan to receive an education. I was awestruck by a quote she shared.
“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.”Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistani Politician
I loved this quote so much because it emphasized the power and importance of womanhood, but it also struck me because this truth was proclaimed in a place in the world where the important role of women and girls is not always honored and often attacked.
If the power of women is so beautiful and strong, why is it that those who often benefit from the lives and influence of women often do not appreciate it?
I have no solution to this conundrum, but I will validate it’s a reality though. And it’s not just about women. It happens often in life.
Artists throughout history have often experienced this same phenomenon. Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. Today, every single one of his remaining paintings are worth over $60 million. Other artists, from Monet to Andy Warhol had the same experience of being criticized in their lives instead of being appreciated for the unique contributions they were making.
Similarly, many notable scientists whose life work influences us today (often without us even knowing) experienced similar rejection or lack of appreciation during their lifetimes.
Albert Einstein is an undeniable genius, and yet his ideas were met with doubt and criticism during his lifetime.
Ignaz Semmelweis saved the lives of so many mothers and babies in his obstetrics ward because he observed and published evidence in 1847 that doctors who washed hands between working with corpses and delivering babies had better survival rates for their patients. He implemented practices in his circle of influence, resulting in much better survival rates. However, he was mocked and ostracized, and he ended up dying in an insane asylum. The hospital ended up going back to their original practices and higher death rates without acknowledging his wisdom.
Gregor Mendel discovered the laws that influence genetic inheritance. Though he published his findings, his work was not accepted until after he died as well.
When it comes to the argument about what is at the center of the solar system, many ingenious scientists were rejected for challenging traditional ideas. Aristarchus (around 300 BC) and Nicholas Copernicus (about 1500) tried to open people’s eyes to see the truth of our heliocentric solar system. Johannes Kepler (early 1600s) believed Copernicus’s work and built upon it, but was ignored as well. Galileo Galilei (early 1600s) built on Copernicus’s work and brought about many of the truths of physics that we know today. Similarly, Isaac Newton (late 1600s) built upon the work of Copernicus and Kepler to establish the laws of physics taught to every child in schools today. The truths are appreciated now, but they certainly weren’t back then.
What all of this shows me is that sometimes people just understand the truth and see things that the general populace doesn’t see or appreciate. That doesn’t mean the discoveries aren’t true. It doesn’t mean that what they are offering the world isn’t of value and won’t make a difference in the future. It has been proven time and time again that even though those individuals weren’t appreciated, they make great contributions to our lives today in art and science.
But I’m not Galileo or Einstein or Van Gogh. How does that apply to me?
When my first child went to preschool for the first time, he came home delighted to inform me that his teacher, Ms. Amy, had taught him how to wash his hands. He was so excited to tell me all about it. I, on the other hand, was more baffled than excited. And if I’m honest, part of me was a little bit offended. I had taught him and encouraged him to wash his hands many, many times. And yet, Ms. Amy was the one being credited with this new found realization. Ultimately, I just laughed and was grateful that he had a new motivation to have clean hands. Ignaz Semmelweis would have been thrilled.
This experience taught me about what I call the “law of witnesses.” This is also my theory on why mothers don’t get appreciated until later. It goes like this: Human brains don’t often like new information that would lead to change. And they don’t like familiar people giving them new information and telling them they need to change, especially if the new way requires more work. It’s not about the teacher. It’s about the normal resistance of the human brain. The time comes when another teacher presents the same information. Because the human brain has been prepped that this new way is a good option, the human brain receives the knowledge differently from the second teacher. Instead of responding with resistance to the second teacher, the human brain now sees the wisdom of the new behavior and embraces it. It sounds something like this.
“What a great idea! I never thought of that! I want to do that from now on! Thank you for opening my eyes to this! You are awesome!”
Result? The second teacher is the hero. The first teacher is unappreciated, or at least not appreciated until later.
Mothers are just first witnesses. The first teachers to teach so many things. I’ve seen this cycle happen so many times now. What began with a preschooler learning to wash his hands has also manifested as adult children appreciating later in life the skills and character attributes that a mother taught them as children. The things they fought against are often the very things they now thank me for.
So don’t get discouraged in your mothering or in just letting your light shine. It may not be appreciated…sometimes not at all. That doesn’t mean you don’t make a difference in the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
Be you! Shine! Teach!
It’s who you are as a woman and as a mother. You are a powerful force for good. Rejoice in it!
Lead Photo credit: sofatutor via Unsplash
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