Often, when explaining the Sikh faith, we say, “Oh yes, everyone is equal in Sikhism — men and women are completely equal.” In our gurdwaras, we make it a point to make sure everyone is sitting on the floor, staying ‘equal’, and eating the same langar, staying ‘equal’ once again. When Sikhs talk of equality like this — in terms of access to resources and facilities, it’s valuable, but we miss a larger point.

What we miss is individual empowerment. During the Guru’s time, Sikhi was all about empowerment — taking people who felt boxed in, limited, and bored, and unleashing them to do whatever they wanted. You want to be a merchant and you’re currently a janitor? Sure — go for it! You want to become spiritual and learn to read and write even though your ‘caste’ has been denied that for centuries? Here’s your first text! Essentially, the Gurus freed people by saying, “you can be all want to be,” and the people jumped at the chance. They were tired of thinking that they were destined by birth to the life of their forefathers. They embraced the Guru’s path, they took risks, and they grew and developed into the Sikh nation. They walked around with a strong sense of purpose and engagement. They were willing to give their lives for their cause.

Today, it seems we’re just here to live the status quo — get the kids to be doctors, attend parties, and just settle and live a quiet life. What happened to the raging fire that once burned bright?

The Gurus empowered us beyond just mere opportunity — they gave us the belief that we could be the best. In fact, the sparrow fought the hawk, and won. Now that’s the equality I’m talking about. Anyone can achieve anything, with effort.

So where are the sparrows fighting the hawks today? I know they are there — but we need more of them as a percentage of the Sikh populace. The little bird taking out a big raptor is the kind of mental picture that inspires passion in the Sikh nation — a passion that we must reignite together.

Ask yourself — what have you done that makes you feel empowered? What risks have you taken that step you outside of the box others would like to confine you inside? These freedoms are why people became Sikhs in the beginning — freedom from a fixed-course life. Are you taking advantage of the self-determination that made Sikhi so appealing when it began?