The SwaggerT. SHER SINGH
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
It’s the one word that truly conjures up the mental image of a Sikh for one who encounters a specimen for the first time: “swagger“.
I didn’t invent this application of the term. I first came across it in the early 70s in a magazine called “Geo” - if my memory serves right. It carried a cover piece called “The Sword and the Swagger”. I remember being bowled over by the accuracy of the author’s first impressions of Sikhs in Punjab. He was being complimentary of what he saw, not critical.
If you see a Sikh walking down a road, I remember it read, he does so giving the impression, without even trying, that he owns it.
It’s true. It’s what we in North America call “attitude”.
The image reflects the self-confidence, the high self-esteem - all of it in so big a dosage that it borders on, or spills into the realm of arrogance. There’s a Punjabi word for it as well: taur -- literally: way, mode, attitude.
I am quite sure it was never meant to be this way when our Gurus sculpted the renaissance man and woman over the course of two centuries-and-a-half. But we humans have a way with things: give us a bit of time and we can spoil anything, everything.
You can see it in the human child. The first thing he does when given a toy is to smash it against another hard object. The job is done only when damage has been done.
So is the way with us when we grow up, even though we become more sophisticated in our ways. With the same speed that water finds the lowest level possible, we too find the lowest possible use or application of everything. If it’s intrinsically good, we know instinctively that its essence can be flipped to do completely the opposite. And we seek it, and do it, without wasting any time.
We as Sikhs were given the gift of self-confidence and high self-esteem, the ability to overcome the biggest of challenges no matter how much larger they were than us … but quickly discarded its most essential ingredient -- humility!
Thus, the gem we had been given has lost its lustre for most of us.
Now, it appears, for those of us who have lost the ability to be truly humble, all we’ve been left with is a swagger.
Our detractors are irked by it to no end and spend all their energy in trying to beat it out of us. They cannot replicate the great qualities that Sikhi has instilled in us, but are driven to distraction by the swagger, and want to smash it all - the good and the bad - into smithereens.
The solution is easy … it stares us in the face all the time. Turn to humility -- munn neevaa(n) - and one becomes infused with wisdom - mutt ucchi!
But it’s a vicious cycle. The swagger comes in the way. It blinds us. It keeps us busy, like the proverbial mouse and a piece of paper, and leaves no time, no energy, to do much else.
I look around and I see it everywhere.
As Sikhs we have dipped into the wealth that Sikhi brings, but it quickly makes us heady and we fall off the wagon. We’ve been warned of this stage and given the antidote, but like the mythical warriors seeking exotic treasures, we forget the magical tools we carry in our pouch to overcome the dragons along the way.
Every man, every woman is a crusader, a warrior.
If we need a film to tell the world our story, we instantly turn into filmmakers and churn out film after home-made film. Lack of training and expertise is no deterrent. We have no patience for experts. If it needs to be done, by God, I’ll do it!
If we need to write a book and tell the world what we are, what we believe in, we turn into writers and produce book after book. The fact that it may not be our forte is not allowed to slow us down. Have a professional writer do it and do it well? Lord, no! Why? I can do it!
The media? I can tackle it. And, by golly, I’ll do it. Everyone, move out of the way.
PR? I can manage it … it’s easy. There’s nothing to it. Can’t see why you’d need an expert to do something so basic and simple!
Advocacy? Lord, who can shout and bellow louder than I can? I’ll do it and the good lord help anyone who comes in my way.
And may the good lord help anyone who dares to think that I should learn a few things, or that I need to do it better!
Some of you may have read my Daily Fix a few days ago titled “Bad PR” in which I criticized the way a public relations project was handled last weekend in London, England, amidst the hullabaloo of the impending Olympics.
The response from those being criticized has, sadly, been predictable.
The first missive was from the fearless leader of the project. She took on the mantle of a martyr and claimed that I had slandered her. Not a single word to respond to any of the issues I raised. Not a word to correct me or to argue that I was wrong in my facts or conclusions.
Then, a well-orchestrated campaign followed. Beginning with personal attacks against me.
Why do I hate the United Sikhs, many asked.
The fact that I am one of the biggest fans of the United Sikhs has not held back any of the vitriol. We at sikhchic.com, not too long ago, named United Sikhs Chic Sikh of the Year, didn’t we? And celebrated it. We’ve probably done more unsolicited articles lauding their activities, and unsolicited ads garnering support for them, than for any other institution. Why? Because we like what they do and have consistently offered our services, each time unsolicited, each time free and with no strings attached.
And, I’ve always thought that the ultimate test of friendship is to be critical when the situation warrants it and NOT sweep things under the rug in order to spare your friend any embarrassment.
Then there are those who acknowledge it was a PR project. We gave away 40,000 rotis, one proclaims. We handed out 15,000 rotis, say others.
They were delicious rotis, they tell me.
They were made with love and prayer on the lips, they remind me.
There were none left for the volunteers, they tell me.
Those who ate them, liked them and were thankful, they inform me.
Others pounced on me to say it WASN’T PR, it was seva pure and simple. To counter post 9/11 fall-out, one explains.
Oh, how much I wish they’d put aside their swagger for a bit and read my piece over again. I do not claim to be right. All I do is raise issues as I see them, so that I can get them to see how others view what they do.
I’ve tried picking up the phone with many a Sikh group or individual in the past to quietly make some suggestions. The result is always a snub, followed by a sulk. “We know what we are doing. We serve the Guru … nothing will deter us, nothing will stop us.“
The only way I can get them to listen and to talk is by bringing the issue out into the community. It does start a dialogue, though a grudging one. But does it bring about results?
I still await an intelligent, well-thought-out dialogue with the organizers - either with the community, or, better still, internally within their organization:
If it’s seva they are doing, how can they do it better?
If it’s PR they are after, how can they do it right?
What troubles me to no end, however, is: why do we need an amateur like me to goad them into looking at the bigger picture? Why do we always, as a community, find ourselves in a corner at a late stage when all we can do is play catch-up, and maybe, just maybe, be able to correct things a bit, but never achieve what we could have?
The London 2012 Olympics was an extraordinary, almost a once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity for Sikh-Britons to shine as Britons, to make their nation proud of them, to make the world proud of them.
And all you came up with was the idea of handing out 15,000 rotis - okay, okay, 40,000, if you will - that‘s it?
And then you have the gumption to deluge us with ill-worded, clumsy press-releases, hoping it will generate for you a pitter-patter of back-slaps?
Conversation about this article
1: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), July 25, 2012, 10:55 AM.
The first and the most important lesson gurbani teaches us is that if we understand God's law, we will never entertain egoism.
2: Navjot Singh (England), July 25, 2012, 2:29 PM.
Sher, seva for seva's sake. Feeding langar to already overweight Sardars at the gurudwara and wiping a cloth over already clean shoes - is this really seva? Surely there are two key facets to seva : 1) It is performed without any expectations, PR or otherwise; 2) It provides a "needed" service. It's a shame no one can take a critical appraisal, especially Sikhs who are by definition meant to be "learners". Fauja Singh was unfortunately hijacked on his run as some Sikhs hounded him, showing no decorum and making what could have been an epic Anglo-Sikh event a free-for-all.
3: Amardeep (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:30 PM.
If you are in public life, you should learn to take criticism constructively. Otherwise we'll end up silencing well intentioned and knowledgeable people and be left with only falsehood around us. That gives us no scope for any growth. I had a similar experience once. Remember our Guru who, on the other hand, was so humble in front of his five Sikhs. Remember the shabad - "inhee ke kirpa se sajay hum hai(n)". The mainstay of our best and most effective organizations is members of our sangat who practice humility.
4: Karam (Delhi, India), July 26, 2012, 9:52 AM.
Enough of langar for the bulging stomachs. Now its time for healthy food for the mind.