This weekend I had the good fortune to serve as a judge for a Sikh youth speech competition. I participated in such competitions quite a bit in my own youth and to be honest…I hated them!
I felt the books were boring, the questions too limiting, and the guidelines too restrictive. Or maybe I disliked it so much because I never placed well 🙂 Either way, I recall at one point as a teenager vowing never to participate again, after all – why should any aspect of my faith or understanding of Sikhi be measured by a panel of judges? So there I was yesterday on the panel of judges…what can I say? The sixteen year old within me is very disappointed!
The competition itself went by quickly – speaker after speaker went up, we quickly filled out our evaluations, prizes were awarded, and I was back in my car heading home. But during my drive, I began to think, what if the judges were given an opportunity to speak today? What would I have said? What could I have offered these youth…or better yet, what do I wish was said to me as I sat in their place years ago?
After pondering these thoughts along with inspiration from a story I heard a few months back, I decided to do something I’ve never done before. As odd as it may sound, even though the event was over, I wrote my speech anyway. And, well…here it is:
As I watched your presentations today – it dawned on me – that by listening to your six minute speech, I have no idea what you’ve really learned. I haven’t a clue what you’ve truly understood of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s life, what lessons you took from it, what principles you have internalized, or what aspects you’ve applied to your life. To simply put it…I cannot measure your conviction.
So instead, I judge you on your talent. How well you articulated your answers, your delivery, diction, style, eye contact, how well you “captivated” us. And at the end of the day, the most talented will win.
But I do believe…at some point in your life, you will face challenges.
And the principles you read about in these books will be realized.
See I participated in these same competitions decades ago, but many of whom I competed with, are not identifiable Sikhs anymore…even those who won first place trophies. Some have chosen to leave the faith altogether.
As a Sikh, you will be challenged…I guarantee it. Be it external challenges, internal…or both
At such a time, you will have the choice to respond like a Banda Singh Bahdaur – with courage, with bravery, with valor…or not.
And when you face these challenges, I can assure you…it will not be your talent that will matter
It will be your conviction
So I hope through this process you have all become better public speakers, it’s an invaluable skill to have both for your academic and professional life ahead. But deep down, My ardaas is that you have not simply read these books for the purpose of competition, but instead you have reflected on these amazing jewels of our history, you have internalized the principles you’ve learned…
And tucked it away for safe keeping.
So that whenever challenge comes your way, in whatever shape or form it may come…
You will be ready