Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From Maya Angelou
Last week was rough, and I am sure we all know why. Though Maya Angelou was in her 80s and had clearly lived a fulfilling life, it is incredibly hard to let her go. Thank god we have her words — written and spoken, candid and scripted — to guide us through life without her.
The easiest lessons piece I have ever written. She was truly a teacher. Let us learn.
EINTKILF Maya Angelou
1. Respect your elders.
The gap between younger and older generations has always caused a great divide in understanding. In an interview, Dr. Angelou perfectly described how she feels about younger generations..
“I work very hard and I want young men and women to know you have to work very hard….they are all my children.”
Personally, I have always respected my elders (for the most part), but it is nice to hear a perspective regarding younger people from such a wise woman, a woman who lived so much life. Hearing those words, feeling that love and respect from our elders is very pivotal for young people to grow.
2. Tell the truth.
Dr. Angelou once said, “Life is life, and death is death, so I must tell the truth when I speak.”
I could not possibly love that more. As a person who often speaks the truth, I appreciate any and all people who speak honestly. I am not perfect at this, but when I grow up, I want to be the most honest human anyone knows. I admittedly people please too often, which sometimes does not allow for the truth to come flying out of my mouth at all times. I hate people pleasing, but it is a hard habit to break.
I always tell the truth about my feelings later, but it is a good reminder to keep it honest from the beginning. We should all do this.
3. The value of one’s history.
In one of my favorite interviews, Dr. Angelou describes a conversation she had with the late Tupac Shakur. At the time, Dr. Angelou did not know who Tupac was, but it did not stop her from reaching out to him. Dr. Angelou and Shakur discussed issues of anger and disenfranchisement. Then she paused and said, “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?”
That alone made me cry, but Angelou went on to explain to Tupac that his ancestors stood on auction blocks and were bought and sold so that he could be alive that day. And he cried — of course he cried — and she put her arm around him.
4. Humanize everyone.
When asked about Malcolm X in an interview, Dr. Angelou spoke of his keen sense of humor. She spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sense of humor as well, though she stated that she knew Malcolm X a lot better than she knew Dr. King. To respond with a reflection about humor when asked about two of the greatest civil rights leaders in our country’s history is bold.
Dr. Angelou went on to explain that she believes in the importance of humanizing these deep political figures to create attainability among younger generations. How else will young people learn from and really understand these men and their true dreams while viewing them on such an elevated level? We all understand humor, and imagining Dr. King or Malcolm X cracking a joke and laughing with their friends and family members truly aids in imagining them as human beings.
All humans are reachable. No one should be considered unattainable.
5. “Courage is the most important of all the virtues.”
There are a lot of virtues — love, hope, faith, patience — but Dr. Angelou believed that without courage, one cannot even practice the other virtues.
Because love takes courage, and faith certainly takes courage, and patience takes courage, and in fact, all things truly require courage.
Be courageous, kiddos. It is worthwhile.
6. “In order to get a friend, you have to be a friend.”
I could not say anything stronger than that.
7. Be the bigger person.
Speaking of Oprah, in an interview with her dear friend, Dr. Angelou described the best advice she ever gave. When speaking to her son about friendships and relationships, she described that place inside of everyone that must remain pure.
“There’s a place in you that you must keep inviolate. You must keep it pristine, clean, so that nobody has the right to curse you, or treat you badly.”
It’s that spot inside you where you will not go further, your internal stop sign, where there is no amount of peer pressure from anyone that can make you give in.
When asked for the best advice she ever received, Dr. Angelou responded with that one key point: “To forgive.”
Such a simple, powerful idea, forgiveness. I was in my early 20s when I realized how much I had not forgiven. I held grudges against my parents, my other family members who had hurt me, likely unintentionally, throughout my childhood; people who had stopped being my friend. I decided to just forgive. Oprah and Dr. Angelou go on to explain that to forgive does not necessarily mean to befriend again. Forgiveness does not mean one must invite the other over for dinner and conversation, but rather forgiveness is about being completely done with a situation. There is no need to hold on to animosity.
Through forgiveness, we can learn so much. I know I have. I do not hold anything against anyone any longer. It all ties together. Forgiveness goes straight into that pristine spot, allowing you to be a bigger, better friend, lover, mother, daughter, and human.
9. Dare to be bigger.
“If a human being dares to dream a great dream, dares to love somebody, dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Teresa, or Malcolm X. If a human being dares to be bigger than the condition in which she or he was born, it means so can you.”
I cannot listen to her speak those words without chills overcoming my entire being. I want to tattoo those words on my forearm and have them read to me over a loud speaker at the start of each day. Dare to be bigger than your situation, than what you were dealt, than what you have gotten yourself into. Everyone is capable of stretching themselves, it is so true. We idolize these human beings, including Dr. Angelou of course, but there is nothing holding all of us back from using our voices and strengths and weaknesses to do good, as well. These are our teachers, we can follow suit. Dare to be big.
10. Women are phenomenal.
“Phenomenal Woman” is exactly what every woman needs at this time in our lives, in the time of #YesAllWomen. Yes all women can relate to “Phenomenal Woman.” If you have not heard these words spoken by Dr. Angelou herself, I would encourage you to listen. Let it sink in. You women truly are phenomenal.
And so was Dr. Angelou. We are lucky to have so many of her words written and recorded. Rest in light, phenomenal woman.