Each setting, whether it is a school, workplace, or city, has its own local culture. Working in different locations has taught me a lot about how to balance fitting into a new setting while still being true to who I am, and has given me a lot of perspective and appreciation for home. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been really surprised at how different the value systems are in the lower mainland. I hear a lot of Canadian-born Sikhs talking about material things, and the expectation that naturally their wishes will be fulfilled by their parents. For example, I heard a guy complaining about how the vehicle his parents bought him back in high school wasn’t the one he wanted, and how they should have gotten him something better. He failed to see the fact that he was privileged that his parents had bought him a vehicle, especially when he was so young. There seemed to be no appreciation for what his parents had done for him, or their hard work and sacrifice that went into making his life easier. I was even more shocked to realize that many of the parents, even outside of the Sikh community, felt that this was their duty. If their child was doing a professional degree abroad, they paid for all tuition fees, living expenses, for a vehicle, etc. When someone asked me to tell my parents to buy me an office building to set up my practice, I realized that this was seen as normal here! Although I was happy that there seemed to be a lot of support for family, I have been really surprised that people think a monetary investment is more important than time. That money is often earned at the expense of family time because that time is spent working instead. For some people it sounded like family has become a relationship simply of money itself. One girl was telling me how she wanted to get away from her family yet expected that they fully fund her studies and living expenses while she transferred to a different university. I think it is different when families come together to share resources with an appreciation and understanding for each other. I think that understanding usually comes with a time investment in building the relationship. In that setting, if a parent can afford to pay tuition and fund studies, there is a sense of responsibility that you would want to do your best in school to succeed in achieving your degree.
When most people are going in one direction, it is hard to live and think differently because it soaks into your life too. It is hard to describe the strong push and pull that occurs and it is almost like when you are in the water and the waves pull and push you. It is an external pressure that comes from other people about what you should and shouldn’t be doing, but it is constant, intense, and more intrusive than anything I have ever experienced. Even just sitting in my car in the parking lot there was a man knocking on my window trying to sell me stolen perfume out of a stolen bag. “No I can’t give you are ride” ends up with someone trying to push their way into your car anyways. Every no is met with strong resistance and a reinterpretation as a yes. I’ve noticed the intrusiveness extends to deception and manipulation so people can get what they want, and I’m not used to constantly thinking about other people trying to use me to get what they want. Saying “Waheguru, Waheguru” before a comment that disrespects me as a woman just makes me sad that people never realized what God is or Sikhi is.
Now I understand why people struggle to be able to connect with Sikhi and escape maya. When you grow up in this type of environment you will end up prioritizing the same things everyone else does. People survive by using others before they get used. From the conversations I’ve heard guns are actually considered cool accessories in Surrey, and by girls too, not just guys. It’s a lot harder to break out of a pattern when you don’t have the right sangat, and when you don’t even know what good sangat means because that’s all you have known. It has been heartbreaking to look around and see people of my generation not knowing anything about Sikhi. People aren’t who they say they are or who they pretend to be so it makes finding sangat even harder. Someone described it as a major culture shock to move to Surrey and I get it. Just like living in a small town has its challenges, so does this. As a young woman safety is also an issue, but I never thought I would say that I wasn't cautious enough and that I needed to be even more vigilant to protect myself. That seemed to be true here.
When our boundaries are challenged with so much pressure, it is easy to think “maybe I will make this one exception today.” (I’m not talking about comfort zones because moving out of what is comfortable actually helps us grow significantly and can be good). When we cross a real personal boundary of ours it usually doesn’t work out well. Many years ago a man told me that when he was young the line between right and wrong moved a little bit at a time until he could no longer remember where the line was, and he ended up living a life of crime which he eventually turned around. I never forgot that. It reminds me that I have to focus on whether I am walking towards God or away from that path.
This experience has taught me that even when you are grounded and you know your path well, it can be easy to become disillusioned in a new environment. We are all vulnerable from time to time, but the compass of Guru Ji helps to guide us, and sangat reminds us of our path. These are the people who understand that the pull of the world is strong in different directions and we make big and small mistakes that maybe aren’t consistent with who we want to be or who we are. Waheguru blesses us with that sangat. They are the people who support us in learning through life. I’ve also learned to appreciate the value of kirat karni and how much time my family has invested to support me.
First Mehl: We are good at talking, but our actions are bad. Mentally, we are impure and black, but outwardly, we appear white. We imitate those who stand and serve at the Lord’s Door. They are attuned to the Love of their Husband Lord and they experience the pleasure of His Love. They remain powerless, even while they have power; they remain humble and meek. O Nanak, our lives become profitable if we associate with them. (Ang 85)