After owning the book for over a decade, I finally read The Diary of Anne Frank in its entirety. I had picked it up and put it back down a couple of times before, getting to the point where Anne and her family moved into the Annexe, and I’m ashamed to say it took me until the age of 26 to finally read it all. In fact, it was only after reading this, that I discovered that Anne died from typhus in a concentration camp, just two weeks before the British troops arrived. That is unbelievably tragic.
There are very few books that I believe every teenager should read (off the top of my head, I can only think of To Kill A Mockingbird, but if you can think of any others, please leave a comment below); and, as gut-wrenchingly sad as Anne’s diary is, I also found it incredibly inspiring. It was written by a 14-year-old girl, 70 years ago, but it feels timeless. History and politics may have changed (somewhat) but the experience of becoming a young woman is still the same. Here are ten things we can learn from Anne:
1. Optimism: ‘Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!’
2. Belief in others: ‘It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart’.
3. Hope: ‘It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more’.
4. Feminism: ‘One of the many questions that have often bothered me is why women have been, and still are, thought to be so inferior to men. It’s easy to say it’s unfair, but that’s not enough for me; I’d really like to know the reason for this great injustice!’
5. Find joy in the little things: ‘I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains… My advice is “Go outside, to the fields, enjoy nature and the sunshine, go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and in God. Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy!”‘
6. Hard work pays off: ‘Laziness may appear attractive but work gives satisfaction’.
7. Take responsibility for your own actions and decisions: ‘Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands’.
8. Don’t be afraid to speak up: ‘People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but it doesn’t stop you having your own opinions. Even if people are still very young, they shouldn’t be prevented from saying what they think’.
9. Be the change you want to see in the world: ‘People will always follow a good example; be the one to set a good example, then it won’t be long before the others follow… How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway… And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!’
10. We are all joined by a common aim: ‘We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same’.
When Anne heard on the radio that ‘after the war a collection would be made of diaries and letters dealing with the war’, she hoped that her diary would become a part of that. In fact, she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, so it’s rather poignant that her diary became, quite possibly, the second most famous book ever written.
It was towards the end of her diary that I started getting choked up; I saw my teenage self in her entries:
‘You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. We’ll have to wait and see if these grand illusions (or delusions!) will ever come true, but till now I’ve had no lack of topics. In any case, after the war I’d like to publish a book called The Secret Annexe. It remains to be seen whether I’ll succeed, but my diary can serve as the basis’.
We lose a lot of that hope and optimism as we grow up, but if Anne could find a way to hold onto it during those difficult years, we certainly should be able to recapture it and spread more than a lil joy.