“This is a judgment free discussion”
“Sikhs aren’t supposed to judge”
“…but that would be judgmental”
“Don’t judge me!”
There’s something intriguing about this approach to gurmat-related dialogue. I don’t remember hearing it as much 20 years ago in the same forums. Back then I recall intense discussions about the daunting task of living the disciplined life of a Gursikh. Where now, the narrative is more “confident” and with an attitude I summarize as “I am happy with the Sikh that I am…and you have no right to tell me otherwise.”
It’s refreshing to see young Sikhs so comfortable with the skin that they’re in and recognizing that the path of a Sikh is a journey…but I also feel there’s something missing.
There’s a deeply personal element of Sikhi where we individually connect with the Divine, improve our discipline, and battle the five vices that challenge us each day. But there is a also a public element of Sikh life. As I see it, our kakkars are not mere symbols, they are a reflection of the principles we hold internally….and we wear them proudly for the world to see. My kakkars are a declaration of what I believe in, without even having to utter a word. It represents the high standard that I need to hold myself to, and what my fellow Sikhs need to hold me accountable to as well.
Wait…”fellow Sikhs to hold me accountable??” Wouldn’t that be judgmental?
After college I had the opportunity to live close to friends I had met over the years at gurmat retreats. We were like-minded and I truly felt I was with “my sangat” when I was around them. Besides the typical hangouts, we would often engage in discourse on baani, history, and panthic affairs. We grew so close that we became familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses as we journeyed on the Guru’s path. And at times, we would challenge each other on our weaknesses and push one another. For me, sometimes it felt encouraging, but mostly it felt uncomfortable and well…”judge-y.” And although I was defensive a lot, I also reflected a ton. Many years have passed since then, but I can honestly say that it was during that period of my life where I grew the most as a Sikh. And now on days when I feel stagnant and complacent with my Sikhi, those are the days I miss “my sangat” the most. What I learned is that the problem with judgment isn’t always the person delivering it, but the ego of the one who is receiving it. Of course, we all want those “cheerleading” friends who encourage us unconditionally and validate the path that we’re on…but that’s not what Sikhi is about. It’s about transitioning off “my” path and merging on to the Guru’s. This is not always easy, and sometimes we need a push.
So it begs the question, by trying so hard to make Sikhi so judgment-free, what “lessons” are we trading off? What “teachable moments” are we missing?
I’m not suggesting we go and put our friends on blast through social media, I’m suggesting we take a look at the sangat around us, and ask ourselves, what am I doing to push the people around me? What am I doing to help them on the Guru’s path? And am I willing to embrace the honest feedback my sangat provides me, and take it constructively?
Perhaps our gurmat camps and retreats can put less focus on being “judgment-free”, and more focus on constructive ways to lift one another. Mentoring, coaching, and feedforward exercises might be a better use of time.
To me, this is not judgment, it’s about being in a sangat. Because if your sangat is not inspiring you and moving you toward the guru…then what is it doing?