I decided to write a blog post about finding your own values and beliefs because I see a lot of topics on Sikhnet discussion forums (a great space for people to learn from each other and talk about important issues) about how people are concerned about seeing young people losing our Sikh values.
I am a Canadian born Sikh with immigrant parents, like many Sikhs in my generation across the country. I grew up hearing varying messages about who I should be and often those were conflicting messages. I’m going to generalize some messages that are out there (forgive me for that!) In western society there is an emphasis on the individual person and making decisions for your own self rather than a larger group/family, socialization and friendships, social pressures to drink alcohol/do drugs/party, focus on being authentic inside, a sense of entitlement and belief in challenging or questioning authority. In our Punjabi/East-Indian culture, there is an emphasis on the family unit and sacrificing/making decisions for the good of the group rather than the individual, respect for authority (and accepting the opinions without question), focus on appearances and outward success, honour and reputation, as well as social pressures to drink and party. As you can see there are a lot of differences that affect how the individual would live their life. Then we have our beliefs systems and values in Sikhism- to be honest, hard working, practice equality, focus your life on your relationship to God, and treat each other as brothers and sisters. So now we have all these belief systems. Even within the Punjabi culture and Sikhism there are differences like “Punjabi men should drink a lot” vs. “A Sikh does not drink.” Okay so now what is a person supposed to do growing up with all these different messages? Often times, we get lost or we just pick a side out of pressure. I see a lot of issues in our generation- people in gangs, doing drugs, cheating, lying, drinking, whatever. In general, just lost from Sikhi. But I can appreciate how difficult it is to figure out your own values now. Our parents came from generations of raising their families in more-or-less the same environment and suddenly, they had to change their parenting style and adapt to everything being different here. It’s a difficult task for them too, especially to see our generation struggle.
When we see a person who we feel isn’t representing Sikhi well, a lot of us react with anger, and that comes from the pain of seeing that individual lost. In knowing ourselves how much Sikhi means to us, the sacrfices made for us to be here, and seeing how this person has not following the values instilled by our Gurus. In that pain, we judge others. Our ego might get in the way and we start to feel superior. Do you see a pattern here? These are the very things Sikhi teaches us not to be. Not to be angry and egotistical, etc. In that pain, we also often shame people. In East-Indian culture, shame is often used as a motivator for change. I recently read in Brené Brown’s Book “I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame” (1), that the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt motivates a person to change because the person compares what they did to their values and decides they want to change for next time, and in shame, the person just feels bad about themselves as a person, and therefore the behavior actually continues or worsens. So forcing our own value system on someone else doesn’t really solve anything for that person. Often times, parents or friends express their disappointment and try to emotionally manipulate the person to changing their behavior. It’s done with the best of intentions so the other person doesn’t suffer the same pain or make the same mistakes. But basically that person will probably choose to suppress that part of themselves temporarily. Think about what that teaches. Firstly, it denies the opportunity for that person to figure out their own path, it forces a decision upon them. Which isn’t a long term effective way to get someone to do something. In essence, you are denying them the opportunity to live for themselves and they are living “for” someone else instead. Second, it says someone else’s value system is more important than that person’s value system. And that might be fine for the time being, but later on when say a parent dies and someone else comes along in their life and says my values are more important, it sets it up so that that person is dependent on other people’s values. They never really made a decision about what they believe themselves, so they are probably going to follow someone else, no matter how ill-intentioned. I’m not saying that you can’t offer your advice or opinion as a friend, as a parent, but you should unconditionally love and support a person too, and you should be willing to listen with compassion before jumping in with your own agenda.
So now what can we do as we watch our children, our friends, our family struggle through these issues? These are complex problems. But one thing we can do is find ourselves first- examine our own beliefs and see if they are relevant and let go of the ones that hurt us. It takes a lot of work, and that type of work is generally not valued because you don’t get to actually hold it up and say look at what I did. But instead YOU are the end result, a changed person and that means so much more. Then live our lives well. That’s a huge inspiration for other people. Offer to mentor and support, but also just standing up for your own beliefs and path in Sikhi allows other people to see that it has importance and people can be happy and successful living with those values. In order for a person to believe in those values, they need to see and feel the benefit otherwise why would it be a priority? I once read on Sikhnet Guruka Singh writes in response to a question
“Every person has their own relationship with their Guru. Either the Guru has chosen that person as his Sikh or not. It is between Guru Ji and that person. We cannot judge that relationship. Sometimes someone has to lose something in order to understand the real importance of it. We cannot know that. It all happens in His hukam. When we are real, direct and authentic with everyone; when we serve everyone regardless of their appearance or attitude, then, and only then, can we touch people's hearts. Transformation happens when the heart is open.”(2). I thought that was a beautiful way of putting it and I couldn’t have said it any better.
1 Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. New York: Gotham, 2007. Print.