If you know me well, you know I love hip hop.
Not sure whether it was the time period I was born or how it lined up perfectly with the heyday of hip hop music, but nevertheless, it was the soundtrack of my childhood. And although much has changed since then, my affinity towards the genre has stayed consistent to this day. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Netflix notified me of a new documentary called “Hip Hop Evolution.” Of course, I watched it that night.
I would often get in debates with other enthusiasts about rap legends and argue for hours over who the real pioneers of the movement were. Was it the Sugarhill Gang? Grandmaster Flash? Run DMC? Kurtis Blow? But after I watched the documentary, I learned the origins of hip hop came from somewhere else. While most of America was obsessed with disco music, wearing fancy clothes in the hottest clubs, teenagers were going to parties held in rec rooms hosted by DJ Kool Herc on the West side of the Bronx. Kool Herc refused to play records with the popular music of the time and instead went back to the roots of soul and funk. And when songs would get to the breakdown, he would extend the break beat, sometimes playing two copies of the same record going back and forth to extend it, almost to the point where he was creating a new song. Pair that with Coke La Rock who hyped the crowd with the mic, and lo and behold…a movement was born.
Where I had thought rap was born when Run DMC busted into the Top 40, it was actually a DJ and MC I never heard of going against the grain at house parties in the Bronx, with unique sounds and innovative techniques that would set the foundation for a revolution.
Revolutions are kind of like that.
Often times what makes the headlines or hits the history books are those prolific leaders and the milestone events, but that’s rarely where revolutions begin. When I think of the Civil Rights movement, I think Dr King, Malcolm X, the March on Washington, and Selma. But if you peel back the layers, I believe there would have been none of it had Rosa Parks not refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama or Ruby Bridges not gone to class that day to desegregate an all-white school in New Orleans. In the larger scheme of things, these may not seem like momentous acts, but they were simple acts of courage that paved the way for the revolution to come
Even when I look at some of the most powerful moments in Sikh history – Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib’s shaahedi, the first Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji or the establishment of Khalsa Panth to name a few – I know all of this began with Guru Nanak Sahib refusing to wear a janeeoo, or having dialogue with the siddhs, or splashing water the other direction in Hardwar. Simple acts of courage…this is how revolutions are born.
And the revolution within is no different.
One definition of a revolution, is “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm.” Personally, as I strive towards gurmat, I have no doubt it requires a revolution. It requires a fundamental change in the way I look at the world. To stop looking through my own lens, and to start looking at the world through a guru-centered lens. It requires me to minimize the “I” and see Waheguru’s wonder in everything. To live a “happy” life not through the standards of social norms, but based on Guru Sahib’s paradigm for living.
But like most revolutions, they do not happen overnight. In fact, those revelations that happen quickly are often the first to fizzle out. Revolutions are not born through grand gestures, they are seeds that are planted, and cultivated over time through simple acts of courage. For a Sikh those simple acts can range from embracing the physical form, to following the discipline, or passing the most subtle of tests that I find myself running into so frequently.
It’s the decision I make to say something or not after I hear a misogynistic comment with friends. Or the racist comment I hear people of color make.
Isn’t it enough to just walk away? After all, I didn’t say it.
Or is that extra effort I could take to make sure a marginalized person is heard?
Or deciding whether or not to be an ally for someone in need, even if it puts myself at risk. Or making the unpopular decision that I know is right, at the risk of losing friends.
It’s these small decisions when no one is looking that hangs my Sikhi in the balance.
Simple acts of courage.
I often read these “good parenting” articles, that tell me I should stop asking my kids “how their day was” and ask them something different:
“What did you do that was compassionate today?”
“What did you do that was courageous or brave today?”
I’ve started doing this.
And also requested they ask me the same.
It is a daily measure that tests whether I am really part of the movement or just watching it pass by.
As I take a stock of where I am and how far I need to go to join Guru Nanak’s revolution, I am often disheartened.
But my Guru, in his impeccable timing, reminds me to worry not…for Spring has come.