Responding with grace, kindness and goodness

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Article Date: 
Jan 14 2013, 2153

Renowned online newspaper, The Huffington Post Religion, has announced a Sikh lady, Balpreet Kaur as the Person Of The Year, 2012. The newspaper had made lists of “most influential” religious leaders, which have included the Pope and the Dalai Lama. However, the religion editors of Huffington Post unanimous choice fell this year on Kaur, a daring and sincere Sikh lady who had the courage to defend herself and her faith with “grace, kindness and goodness.”
Kaur is a US resident and a practising Sikh. A photo of herself (taken without her knowledge) standing in line at the Ohio State University bookstore was posted online by an editor at Reddit, a social news and entertainment website. It was put under the subject heading “funny,” apparently based on her unique appearance of having facial hair. The photo went viral and became an internet sensation.
As a practicing Sikh, Kaur is forbidden to alter her body, because it is considered a gift from god. When she was informed of the Reddit thread, Kaur decided to address the intentional denigration by writing in the Reddit news. With a remarkable generosity of spirit, she explained who she was, why she looked the way she does, and the tenets of her Sikh faith.
She wrote: “Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realise that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body — it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being (which is genderless, actually) and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will.”
Interestingly she added, “When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away,” Kaur wrote. “However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.” Balpreet’s courage to own up her faith and to express herself and to disarm ignorance with wisdom led to a sincere apology by the original editor who expressed his true change of heart.
He acknowledged: “I know that this post isn't a funny post but I felt the need to apologise to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture. Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post. I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant.”
In honouring Balpreet Kaur as the Person of the Year, the editors thought that she “enriched all of us on the internet with knowledge of her own faith and showed that grace, kindness and goodness are the best antidote to ignorance online as well as offline.”
The courage to be true to her faith, the ability to express her beliefs and the desire to cultivate inner virtues, have made this woman remarkable. May we be inspired by her to hold on to our cherished inner values firmly, gently and gracefully. Drawing from our inner resources and genuine convictions, true religion responds to tough and challenging situations without rancour or bitterness.

(The writer is a professor of science and religion)