It was bound to happen at some point.
I was hoping somewhere in my graduate studies I would bump in to some concept or idea that I could relate to my interest in Sikh thought, and sure enough it happened in the oddest of places…a business ethics seminar. In reviewing David Brook’s New York Times article titled “If It Feels Right”, Brooks finds that young people in America are mostly disconnected from any moral sources, and as a result find youth in an “atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and non-judgmentalism.” This doesn’t mean they are immoral, but their morals are based on “what feels right.”
At first, I was relieved that this phenomenon was not limited to Sikh youth. As one who has been working with Sikh youth for a good part of my life, I’ve noticed this growing trend of “moral individualism” and “non-judgmentalism” when it comes to their Sikhi and dynamics within the larger sangat.
I’ve seen it time and time again…a young Sikh makes a commitment to further their Sikhi development, say grows out their hair, receives amrit, charni lagna, or begins wearing a dastaar. They are happily willing to receive the support and encouragement by their sangat as they begin this new journey. However, if they fall off the path, or back out on their commitment, all bets are off. That same sangat feels threatened to say something at the risk of being “judgmental” and often times the struggling Sikh themself casts everybody off with a “hey, leave me alone…this is my personal journey” attitude. But is it though? And is that all your sangat is supposed to be? Just people to listen to kirtan with and cheer you on during good times?
Sure, I do believe the journey of a Sikh is largely personal. It’s about building and developing that relationship with the Guru through personal discipline, simran, and reflection on gurbani. However, there is a very public aspect of Sikhi too that is quite unique. Let’s face it, Guru Sahib gave us a distinct uniform that not only reminds us of our principles every time we look in a mirror, but it also proclaims to the world who we are and what we believe in. And if I am going to publicly don the uniform of my Gurus and the heroes that followed, shouldn’t I be held accountable by my sangat when I misrepresent it? If I have willingly knelt before the Guru and offered my head, shouldn’t my sangat challenge me when I break that commitment? So It begs the question…where does accountability end and judgment begin?
Some say it depends on the approach…those who are humble, loving, and compassionate in their criticism are okay, while the others are just being judgmental. As I’ve stated in previous posts, I do believe sangat should be kind and compassionate when trying to guide their fellow brother or sister back on track, but realistically, it won’t always happen that way. And how often are most of us willing to graciously take criticism regardless of how it is delivered, especially for something that means so much to us as our Sikhi?
There is one thing about being a student I know for sure…I will fail at some point or another. Maybe once, maybe many times…It’s inevitable. But if I believe my path is true, I simply cannot throw my hands in the air and give up every time I fall, nor can I dismiss everybody around me in fear of being judged. I need to check my own ego at the door, and humbly take the criticism and advice from my sangat…because if I believe they are my sangat, than I have to believe their intentions are good and that we’re all in this together.
In my days playing football, I recall what it’s like to have the ball slip through my hands on an important play and feel like I’ve let my team down, as we’ll as myself. But something interesting happens immediately after that. The coach rarely puts you on the bench after a botched play, instead he puts you right back in. Why? So you don’t dwell on your mistake and instead get right back out there and rebuild your confidence. Similarly your teammates may be disappointed, but they’ll still give you some tips on your technique and cheer you right back on to the field. And on the way back to the huddle, you have no time to wallow in despair or let your ego get the best of you – because after all, it’s not all about you…you play for a team.