Our local gurdwara is embroiled in the middle of some dirty committee elections. The back and forth between opposing parties is getting intense. There are mean Facebook comments, ugly emails and horrible things said on both sides. Suffice to say, democracy isn’t always pretty.
Elections only really got interesting though, when our local Sikh youth got involved. Unafraid to tell the truth and call out “Badal-lovers” or straight up criminal elements involved in the elections, our youngsters are ruffling feathers. The established oligarchy of uncles is confused and afraid. It all made me wonder, why did it take the youth stepping in for anyone to have to the guts to bring up real issues? Up until the moment young people got involved, the debate consisted of basic personal attacks and accusations. No one talked about human rights, corrupt Akali Dal connections to our gurdwara committee, or community issues like senior citizen rights and services.
I wondered why more of our elders didn’t look to the youth for solutions to some of the community’s dire problems in the first place. I wondered why, until they make a ruckus, youth were almost totally ignored.
I read a comment on our gurdwara Facebook page that crystallized this issue for me:
“These youth don’t know how to talk to elders. Ek number de batameej. They talk to elders, no matter which side, like they are either younger than them or their age.”
Some of you may have heard much worse than this comment but as I read these words, I seethed. The biases hidden within the complaint demonstrate a rejection of a young person’s autonomous humanity. Ageism hurts elders I know, but I feel no one ever says how damaging it is for young people too. From my own experience as a youth and now as a youth educator, I believe Punjabi culture’s disregard for the natural intellect and energy that youth possess is an injustice.
To assume that a young person should automatically revere an elder when talking to them wrongly assumes that all elders deserve reverence. As controversial as it may sound, you don’t have to talk nicely to someone just because they’re older than you. All humans should be respected but to function in the world on the premise that age automatically bestows wisdom is silly. Experience teaches us many things if we choose to learn; but if we don’t choose to learn from experience, then we’re no better off at 40 then we were at 14. As a youth educator I hear wisdom from the very young everyday. Not surprisingly, I hear adults say some of the stupidest things. Being young doesn’t mean you’re always wrong.
Yes, there are many examples of young people disrespecting their elders. This too is unjust. But why don’t we step up more when the bashing goes in the other direction? If we want to improve the panth we have to make sure we’re not alienating an entire demography just because of their age. Sadly, often we are. Boilerplate complaints about young people being disrespectful are rampant and discouraging for a segment of our community that we need to include. After all, look at the local Gurdwara I attend. It’s the young sangat members who have the courage to speak up about real issues. It’s the young people who stand up for revolution. Sikh history both far and recent should remind us – youth power is not only crucial, but necessary for change. Many shaheeds, revolutionaries, soldiers, philosophers, and the ones brave enough to lose everything were youth. We need them now as much as ever.