Just what is true ‘people practice’?

In Sikhi we are taught that to be in the company of others is a blessed thing. This single belief permeates a lot of our practices and customs. It’s why when you go to a Sikh home, you will always be welcomed, you will be fed, you will be given sweets, and you will be made to feel part of the family you never knew existed. It’s why when you go to a gurdwara, you will be accepted no matter the colour of your skin, or the faith you follow (or don’t). This fundamental belief stems from the power shared by our tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji.

In the late 1690’s, he recognised that the lineage to date of Sikh gurus couldn’t continue. There was no one else he could pass the responsibility of leading the Sikh people onto. So he made an unprecedented move, and in 1699, when he congregated thousands of people at Anandpur Sahib in North India, he showed everyone present just how much power they had. He asked for five faithful followers to sacrifice their lives for him, and he received them one by one. The gathered crowd believed these men to have died, and were surprised to discover them all emerge from a tent wearing distinctive clothing. Guru Gobind Singh ji declared these five his Panj Pyare – the five (Panj) beloved (Pyare) ones. He also declared that his Panj would from that point forward be the ones who make all decisions for Sikhs.

Another central tenet to Sikhi is the concept of sewa – selfless work. We see this most often when you visit a gurdwara. There will be people present who will make food for anyone who visits, and it is entirely free, with no concept of paying or one person being any more deserved that another. All are equal in the eyes of God. You will be served food, and your dishes cleaned after you. You are not allowed to help yourself, although you can always ask for more if available. This is because there are volunteers present who have accepted this on behalf of their community. There are some who do it consistently and regularly, and there are some who do it as they see fit.

Social science tells us that people benefit by being around others. When we are depressed, when we need support to overcome an addiction, when we need therapy, one of the common techniques is to be involved in group activities of some kind. We find support in others, we find wisdom, we find friends and we find happiness. Equally we find the antithesis of all of those – we find exclusion, we find hurtful and abusive people, and we can find loneliness. Let me make this clear now, this has nothing to do with perceived levels of extraversion or introversion, this can happen to anyone.

Sticking with the benefits of being around others, though, we find the social benefits are evident too. We create a set of norms people accept, we find ways to challenge those and create something new, we find ways to entertain others and give joy, we find ways of making things happen simply by talking.

Add social media and technology to the mix and the opportunities for finding social groups that are supportive and positive are in abundance. Speaking for myself, I enjoy being able to step into different communities of interest depending on what I’m looking for at that time. I’ve often thought about keeping seperate Twitter accounts for different purposes, and then remember that I am all of my interests, and not one of them is more or less important than the other.

And then I want us to consider working environments. We strive to make things matter. Engagement and strategic strategising of strategies for a clear strategy is the name of the game. I’m all for that, and what I remain keenly mindful of is that we aren’t mindful enough of the power of people to find their own way through things. Even when we (HR and L&D) think we’ve found ways to help people, we trip over ourselves to mitigate for risk. There will always be times when someone gets upset, and that is no bad thing. People getting upset keeps us on our toes and ensures we are as inclusive and open about people practice as we can be.

Helping people to find their own way through their day to day tasks though. That’s what we need to focus on. That’s true HR, that’s true learning and development, that’s true coaching, and that’s true organisational development.