March 20, 2013

I.LEAD Part Two: Play to your Strengths

This is why I'm writing again.

Every person has been made different, with different skills and talents.  Not everyone is going to be a scholar, and not everyone is going to be a doctor.  It is a blessing of humanity that we're not all wired the same way, otherwise the world would struggle with imbalance even moreso than it already is.

At the I.LEAD conference, not every speaker was a scholar.  Some speakers were not even all that eloquent.  But eloquence isn't necessary for delivering a message, really; it is more a function of passion and conviction.  And in my case, it was the ineloquence of a full-on rant that woke me up.

That rant would be the speech delivered by an author of childrens' books, who bluntly expressed her opinions on parenting, societal and peer pressure, and mosque administration (more on that later) without holding anything back.  She was animated, at times crass, but above all, convincing in her delivery.  She clearly expressed her opinions, and spoke audaciously about issues that we would normally keep silent about.  And she found her place in the world as a storyteller, her writings as genuine as her speech.

For a few years, I was misplaced as an alternate khateeb at my then-local musallah.  This also happened to be during a period in which I was writing fairly regularly here on this blog as well as the local Muslim newspaper.  While I tried preparing every time for my khutbah, more often than not my speech ended up being more related to something I had blogged about earlier that week.  Whatever research and preparation I did, whatever great speech I listened to and wanted to repeat, I was never able to express very well.  But whatever I had written came out naturally in speech as I stood before the small congregation.

Writing, then, was the better fit for me; I accept now that I wasn't very good at the research or the attempted emulation of speakers I've enjoyed listening to.  And even after years of inactivity, writing remains as the most productive creative outlet at my disposal.  Hence, the best way for me to get personal benefit out of the I.LEAD conference would be to put it down on paper, so to speak.

This was the second major theme I gleaned from the days' events.  Too often, we miscast members of our communities into roles that are not suited for them.  We scoff at the non-traditional ideas that come from our youth, and relegate them instead to mundane tasks.  We raise our children to be doctors and engineers when their real talents have not even been discovered yet.  And we are disappointed when our expectations are unmet, without even considering whether those expectations were at all reasonable.  We fail to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and our communities, and then wonder why things aren't moving  forward.  No matter how much we smash away, the square peg won't fit into the round hole.

Everyone has their talent, their skill, their one thing they can do better than anyone else.  And as a society, each individual has a role to play.  But our narrow views on family status and community responsibility blind us from those hidden talents.  We lose sight of what we can become, and assign ourselves to roles we don't fit.  And once anyone starts down that road, struggling down a path that they're not suited for, confidence breaks down and we fall into dejection and depression.  So much potential wasted, and so many hearts broken.

As a parent, this is my lesson: encourage my daughter in whatever productive pursuits she finds herself in.  Find ways to channel her talents into positive contributions to society.  This can't be forced, she has to discover herself what those talents are.  The responsibility of the parent is to provide some guidance, but let the child show what she can really do on her own.

Parenting was a common theme throughout the conference, as youth engagement begins first at the home.  The four A's, as articulated by Dr. Yassir Fazaga: affection, attention, acceptance, and appreciation.  Love and play with your children, and give them the right attention; too often, we let cartoons and internet raise our children, and then wonder why we don't recognize them later.  Accept who they are; it may not be what we anticipated, but it is what Allah chose for them, and in that there is surely some wisdom.  Appreciate what they do; if we learned to look past our own biases, we would be amazed at the talents Allah has placed in our children and youth.

As an individual, I need to do more with what Allah has given me.  We all do, with whatever gifts we have been given.  I think I know now what works for me, but this is really a journey of constant discovery, and my role today may be different than what is planned for me tomorrow.

Once we know our own strengths, it becomes that much easier to individually contribute.  But bringing that recognition from the personal level to the community level is extraordinarily difficult.  The mosque should be the hub for that community growth, but rarely is nowadays.  What I learned from I.LEAD about the rise and ruin of the mosque will be the topic of the next post.

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