Malek the Wise
Over the course of the revolution, I have learned many priceless lessons from the Libyan people in their bid to jettison the Gaddafi apparatus. As the lifeblood that animates the body was shed on the battlefield, the red-stained dust of war revealed to me the true value of human dignity, and perhaps even the true cost of freedom (clichés all too often used in my society without any real understanding of their respective meanings). Yet despite all this food supplied to my starving thoughts, I have found no greater lesson than the one taught to me by a precocious 13-year old boy named Malek.
In the early days of the uprising, the flimsy infrastructure of Benghazi completely collapsed under the weight of revolt. All services came to a grinding halt when the city effectively cut itself from the regime. Yet in one of the greatest acts of cooperation I have ever witnessed, the people came out en masse, volunteering in a myriad of roles to keep the very heartbeat of Libya’s second city alive. To do his part, young Malek wished to direct traffic in the all too congested epicenter of the revolution. So one day, he bought a hat and a whistle, and found one of the busiest intersections in town. Without skipping a beat, he confidently walked into the midst of the chaos, and started waving his arms this way and that…until the entropy decreased, and the crossroads once again began to resemble a normal intersection.
When I met Malek, his 60-year old uncle told me his story with a touch of awe. This 13-year old boy, caught in the sea change of revolution, came to realize what most of us never will. Not with positive reinforcement, nor with words of admonishment, but with a simple action that cuts much deeper than the billion-dollar industry of life coaching ever could. For the greatest lessons are not found within the feel-good slogans, nor within the easily remembered catch phrases. They lay compressed within the very actions themselves. The motion, not the voice.
Since his traffic-directing days, Malek has demonstrated a firm grasp of this lesson time and time again through his largely successful endeavors, ranging from underground wholesale distribution to providing protection for the neighborhood. When he decided to be a horse trainer, he simply bought a horse whip, and befriended a horse owner. When he decided to be a businessman, he searched for the best deal around, and cut the perfect balance between profit and undercutting the more experienced competition. And when Tripoli fell, he got his hands on a crate of fireworks, and put on the best damn show in town. Keep in mind that I am writing about a mere child, a yearling who barely even saw the edge of the last century. Yet this child has more wisdom contained within his heavyset frame than most experienced life coaches ever could possess. For this he has become my teacher, and I his student.
So what is this lesson I speak of? Our self-centered minds, in a cheap bid to feel clever and important, will without doubt look for a complicated set of principles that guide Malek’s actions (of which I have barely skimmed the surface). And we will then smugly sit back and let others marvel at our own depth and intelligence. But of course we will utterly miss the point, and in time continue our onslaught of complaints about how nothing ever goes our way. Meanwhile, a 13 year old kid in the middle of a shattered city torn asunder by war, is unapologetically getting shit done.