Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
Thank you for your leadership. And thank you for your service.
Often, these two concepts – leadership and service – are taken separately, as two discrete ways of engaging with the world around us. We typically think of leadership as how someone with power influences those who follow them, and service as a way of supporting those without power.
What my Sikh faith has taught me, though, is that the two go hand-in-hand: We each have our own forms of power, and we can each deploy that power for the betterment of our world. This is servant-leadership.
“…leadership is at its best when it is rooted in compassion and humility.”
I have learned that leadership is at its best when it is rooted in compassion and humility. The poorest leaders are those who work for their own gain and seek to serve themselves. The greatest leaders are those who are connected to their people and work for the benefit of those they serve. One approach is self-centered and leads to disconnection, while the other is inspired by love and produces justice. We have seen with our own eyes the difference between the two.
In the Sikh tradition, we refer to this selfless, love-inspired service as seva. It is both the natural expression of our love and the practice for cultivating love. Service, we believe, is the goal and the practice. We believe this because service itself is love.
One of the most commonly sung praises of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, announces: “vaho vaho gobind singh aapay gurchela. Amazing, amazing is Gobind Singh, who is both the guru and the servant.”
For Sikhs, this is not just empty praise. We aspire to each be like Guru Gobind Singh and to embody his qualities, including his unique approach to leadership – to lead and to serve in the same breath.
His approach to leadership as a form of service is an approach from which we all can learn. As we move toward building a more just and more loving world, we would all do well to follow in these footsteps.
Simran Jeet Singh
Simran Jeet Singh
Union Theological Seminary