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An Unexpected Surprise At The Sikh Coalition's "Presenters Course"

by MEETA KAUR

 

 

Have you ever stepped into a situation with reasonable expectations about the people you will meet and how the event will unfold, only to experience the same event in an entirely different way?

The Sikh Coalition’s Presenters Course in Fremont (California, U.S.A.) surprised me in ways I did not anticipate and I’m thankful for the unexpected experience.

As a mother of two sandbox and puddle-stomping children, I was thrilled to trade out my stained t-shirt for a crisp ironed
shirt and engage in grown-up conversations the first day of the course. My intention in signing up centered on strengthening my public speaking skills to increase Sikh awareness in the general public.

We started the day’s session with a simple exercise of introducing ourselves in front of the group for 5 minutes. Fred Polirer, a public speaking skills coach, asked us to share a story about ourselves, a principle in Sikhism we connect to, and our purpose for taking the class. Easy enough. Fun. Light. Get to know the people in the room.

I volunteered first to set an internal bar for my own public speaking skills, improve from that point forward, and enjoy everyone else’s introduction.

I remember a young Sardar with Dalai Lama like ease sharing a story about a mugging at gunpoint and how these two men took the opportunity to also spit out their hatred for terrorists. This singular moment opened up a life trajectory this young man did not anticipate. He reflected and credited this moment as a primary motivator for attending the presenter’s course; to educate the larger public and minimize the threat of misinformed and irrational violence towards Sikhs.

Next, a local Khalsa school teacher touched us with a 9/11 story. A prestigious residency program dismissed her brother because the hospital staff perceived this Sikh resident as snickering at the fall of the twin towers on television. She had lived with this stone-crushing story for the past ten years and the tenderness with which she expressed it made me feel as if it had happened yesterday. She held this story inside her and the presenter’s course triggered a need to symbolically confront the ignorance of the hospital staff with education and awareness for the larger public; we then listened to her voice rise to a position of grounded strength as she anticipated the journey through the course.

We then heard another tale of a gentleman hiking in the Grand Canyon with his son and nephew. Several miles into the hike, he noticed his son and nephew fatigued and losing focus. He decided to distract them with some of the Gurus’ saakhis, which in turn gave them the motivation to finish the hike.

I was beyond impressed with the ability of each participant to pinpoint these exact life-changing moments as motivation to sign-up for the presenter’s course.

These stories were gifts and the act of listening expanded me, grounded me, and checked me as to how far I need to grow spiritually. I also felt a warm gratitude for having the opportunity to meet such deeply sensitive and intelligent people. It gave me a new connection to our community.

Transparency with our most vulnerable moments can lead us to the courage we need to take charge of not only our individual destinies but also collectively participate in our community’s destiny.

Folks, we are only into the first hour of this training. You can only imagine what the next two days entailed. It was rigorous. Reflective. Fun. Funny. Insightful. Imaginative. Inspirational. The multiple evaluations on our speaking skills throughout the course were priceless. And with each “aha” moment (thanks, Reshma!), each participant grew into their potential as an effective and dynamic speaker.

Manbeena Kaur, the Sikh Coalition Education Director, brought her Texas charm and grounded classroom and community experience to the strategy discussions for delivering effective presentations. With a room full of engaged participants, Manbeena fielded a wide - and we are talking stretching across the North American continent 'wide'! - range of questions with understanding and precision.

Winty Singh, a participant from Sacramento, had this to say:

I found the Sikh Presenters Course valuable for several reasons. I have done Sikh awareness presentations before, but what I always found challenging was to present an introduction to Sikhism in a concise way so to not overload the audience with more information that they could absorb. Also, most of my experience has been with adult audiences, and so to have the opportunity to practice giving a Sikh awareness presentation to an audience of children in a way that they could understand was very valuable to me.

"The other very valuable aspect of the course was to network with The Sikh Coalition and the other participants. To be able to leverage their experience, perspectives and ideas allowed me to add to my own experience and to what I am bringing into a presentation. The tips and feedback about my presentation skills were also invaluable.

"I would recommend the course to anyone who is interested in doing these presentations, or to those who already are, so that we can make the most of our efforts to educate our communities about Sikhs and Sikhism in a consistent, relevant and concise way."

At the end of the course, it was clear that we were prepared to step onto a psychological battlefield to combat negative perceptions of Sikhs with awareness and a mindset centered on the Gurus’ message of compassion, inclusion, and truth. With this type of tool kit, the battlefield becomes a classroom, and the lesson delivered is hopefully one that softens the gaze towards Sikhs in the United States.

Finally, I had the pleasure of running into Manbeena on the east coast. And in talking to her about the course, I realized how important it was to stay in touch with all the participants to re-capture that excitement and energy around presenting.

In delivering a presentation and facilitating a discussion about who Sikhs are, we give those internal stories that create wounds a chance to heal without leaving any scars.

 

June 24, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Jaswant Singh Mann (Ludhiana, Punjab), June 24, 2011, 8:14 AM.

Seems interesting, to say the least. Good effort. How could we, in India, benefit from it? I would like to conduct such programs in India. Can someone guide me?

2: Rubin Paul Singh (Washington, D.C., U.S.A.), June 24, 2011, 10:13 AM.

Wonderful article, Meeta! We're excited to host the Sikh Coalition Presenter's Course here in July. Looking forward to sharing some of the same experiences!

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