Passing on the Baton – Youth Leadership

Those of you who are around 35 years old and younger probably notice how the "older generation" operates and does things very differently than you. There is a definite "disconnect" and gap between the older and younger generations. There are more noticeable differences between the generations today than ever before. This is because the world has changed so much in the last 50 to 80 years. The way that the older generation was raised and relates to the world is very different than that of the younger. It’s as if we speak different languages when we relate to each other (and I don’t mean English and Punjabi).

When it comes to leadership I have always felt that it is important for the younger generation of Sikhs to take more leadership roles in our communities. Many of us complain about the politics in Gurdwaras, and many issues that are around us. We talk about what everyone is, or is not doing.

A Side Story: One time after the morning Akhand Path Bhog some of the sangat was serving langar that they had made at the last minute (since there is not normally langar at the time). It wasn’t a planned thing. While in line and getting food, I heard someone complaining about something with the food and I got a bit irritated. The person had no idea of the love and time that went into making this langar. All they saw was what they thought was wrong with the langar (Rather then the blessing of having Guru’s Langar). From then on I realized that someone shouldn’t have the right to complain about something, unless they are a part of the solution. So, the next time you think about complaining or criticizing something, think about how you can be a part of a solution to help make it better. I suppose this is how life is. We tend to not see the many gifts that we already have all around us, and focus on what is wrong, and what we don’t have.

I learn a lot from my elders, however I think the youth of today have a lot to share and contribute also. It can be hard sometimes as a youth wanting to make a difference in this world and finding a place to do so. That feeling of wanting to help create change and solve problems but not being supported or welcomed by the elders. Some obvious things come to mind like how many Gurdwaras are operated and geared towards the adults. Not much effort is made to involve and empower the youth, who are our tomorrow. For every Gurdwara committee there should be a number of youth also a part of it who can help come up with ideas and new ways to support and inspire the youth. There has to be flexibility for change and inclusion. We need both generations involved in bridging this gap. It’s a team effort!

I think it is a conscious focus that has to be there for the elders to mentor and involve the youth in leadership positions. It’s a passing of responsibilities from elders to the younger generation. 

One of the things which I think is important is for the youth to get together, to talk and discuss many of these issues, and to find solutions. Many of us want to do something, but don’t know where or what to do. Sometimes when we step up and try to do something the older generation blocks it because it is different and not what they think is right or important. 

A few weeks ago we had Khalsa Council meetings here in Espanola and there was one part where everyone (200+ of us from all over the world) broke out into different groups to discuss various issues. I was in the group that discussed the topic of how to involve the youth more in Khalsa Council. It was a very exciting group to be a part of and hearing all the things that people had to say. As a result of this discussion, myself and a few others realized how good it would be to have a youth conference where we as youth could talk about the issues of today and find solutions. The conference would serve to help youth build bonds, gain confidence, and develop leadership/teamwork qualities. It would also be a forum for youth talk about different issues and find common goals. Many of us want to do something, but might not actually do it on our own. This is where a youth support group comes in and the 1+1 doesn’t equal 2; it equals 11.

I know there are many youth that already get together in different parts of the world for camps and other activities. I think this is great. I just feel that within the circle of people that I am involved in, we have so many youth leaders who are involved in the community in so many ways, but exist in a smaller circles of youth. Imagine if many youth organize and get together with a common direction and unified vision! The things that we could do!

When I read of things like someone not being let into Harmandir sahib because they have a bandage on their foot, or other political infighting I am disgusted. I’m not personally interested in going to India and arguing these things with the SGPC, however we can educate ourselves and our friends about these things, so that these practices don’t get passed on to our coming generations. We can all help change things within our own communities, but it does take time and effort. We can’t leave it up to someone else (who is that someone else?).

So with all this in mind some of us youth want to get started. A couple of us youth here in Espanola are going to brainstorm some ideas and come up with a first agenda for a youth meeting (not yet a "conference"). We will then set a date and invite any youth who which to be involved. The first meeting will probably help us all get some ideas and a vision of where to take this further. In the near future I would like to see some type of international youth conference where we have a diverse group intermingling with each other. I would like to encourage other youth wherever you are, to to organize something in your own community. Even just getting together to talk about these things is a good thing.

Many years ago myself and Ravi Kaur went to a local youth leadership workshop and by the end of the day we were both excited about the experience that we had. I remember us talking about how we needed to organize something like that for the Sikh community. Now, here we are so many years later finally on track to do this!

After the workshop the organizer emailed us a really cool "Youth Activities Facilitation Manual". I highly recommend that you download and check it out if you are involved in camps or other youth related activities. It has lots of good stuff! I used some of the ice breakers at the Sikh Student Camp in UK and it was a lot of fun! 

Ready or not, here we come!