Tis The Season ... For Givingby I.J. SINGH Every year at this time The New York Times comes out with its campaign for "The Neediest." Many readers contribute pennies and dollars for those whose need is greater. The act of giving even a little opens our hearts a lot. This spirit stands as volunteerism at its best, in stark contrast to the taxes that we pay but grudgingly. Many religions, including my own - Sikhism - speak of tithing that is a flat ten percent to be used for community needs. Remember that not so long ago, a presidential candidate, Malcolm Forbes, argued for a flat ten percent tax no matter what the income. If I remember correctly, Ross Perot, too, floated a similar idea. Since these are taxes we would likely resent them, no matter how small the rate. But why do we contribute to religious causes and to secular charities? Is it because humans are to some degree hard wired for a certain degree of altruism? Some recent evidence suggests that we may be. Or perhaps charity allows us to forgive ourselves for our excesses of competitive consumerism in a dog-eat-dog existence. Thus is our slate cleansed once again at the end of the day or a year so that we may return anew to our sinful ways that are not so easily avoided in our troubled lives. Charity is a wonderful way to settle both our guilt and our debt to society Such thoughts aside, I see that our Sikh community in North America shows many interesting turns in its narrative. We have been here for over a century, but for almost half that period our early ancestors in America struggled against mighty odds to level the playing field somewhat - the right to vote and to buy land or to hold a job took a couple of generations of struggle. The next generation of Sikhs, some home-grown, some immigrants, worked to establish themselves socially and financially so that their progeny could attend the best schools and strut in the corridors of power. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. But they continued to establish institutions that spoke to their own psychosocial needs. Their progeny, now comfortable in their new homeland and its non-Sikh institutions, needed to create their own models to address their own needs so that the Sikh community could truly work towards defining an equal place at the table in a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious America. The result: organizations like SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, Khalsa Aid, SikhRI - and, of course, sikhchic.com - are their products. On the other hand, the 200 gurdwaras in America continue to speak to the needs of their parental generation. Therein I see a crucial divide. Though in many ways I stand astride both, in this chronological, generational stratification I, too, am part of the parental generation. I see that my generation's day in the sun is almost done. The baton must pass to the young. Their needs are different as their methods, though the two generations share the same dream - an equal place at the table. It is time for the new generation of Sikhs to take greater, even fuller, responsibility for what they do and how they do it - for how they shape the future of Sikhi in this land. If attendance is any guide, young Sikhs have minimal relationship to the institutions (largely gurdwaras) founded by their parental generation. And rightly so, I say to that. Yet, when they want to pursue their own independent dreams that run parallel to ours, where do they first go to solicit funds that they need. Often to the same gurdwaras that they shun and their elders founded. I know that most gurdwaras are awash in funds that are poorly utilized; any monies that can be redirected towards a better purpose should be celebrated. Yet, I wonder. You see, one can have but can never feel ownership of something that one has not worked to create, manage, nurture or serve. That sense comes only if your blood, sweat and tears have gone in the shaping and making of it. And that is how I look at the divide between the young and the gurdwaras that often support their causes, even if reluctantly and inadequately. Soon enough, a younger generation of Sikhs will inherit the 200, mostly dysfunctional, gurdwaras that an earlier generation had founded and funded. Would the young want them and what will these new owners do with them once they get them? I leave such questions for another day. In fact this generational divide lies at the root of many of our problems. The institutions that the young people have founded are fantastic and forward-looking but the generation of gurdwara builders and controllers extend only grudging and niggardly support because they have little relationship with those institutions. I am mortified and saddened that no existing gurdwara awards an annual supporting grant as a matter of policy to any of the organizations that I listed earlier, nor has there been any major gurdwara financial underpinning for any one of the myriad Sikh youth summer camps that dot the landscape. The results are predictable: In the organizations formed by the young, programs are often held hostage to their financial exigencies, while the older generations look at them with a jaundiced eye and extend only reluctant and meager support. But the young people are trained, educated professionals, often holding much better jobs than their parental generation could even dream about. Same for their respective incomes. I remind you that many young professionals have already reached higher than most of their parental generation ever hoped to get. So, it is time for the young to develop models of collaborative functioning in a quasi-independent existence so that they assist, and not undermine, each other such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, I am suggesting that they use the same professional skills in their community service that they use as consultants in big business. It is time for the young to dig deeper into their own pockets rather than look to the gurdwara kitties. Be not afraid to take the road less traveled. Form and join a central organization that can collect and raise and then channel funds as project grants to your many institutions. Let the process be driven by your track record, purpose and project-driven activities, transparency, accountability with a professional approach and demeanor. Keep in mind that most of these listed attributes are largely missing from our gurdwara focused activities, but that the young represent a generation attuned to such requirements of modern business. Develop models of giving that allow Sikhs and their friends to contribute directly from their paychecks; pattern them along the likes of United Jewish Appeal and others to which many of us donate. The need is to develop a model system of funding where initiatives and action plans are developed in a competitive environment but their execution becomes synergistic. Look around: A lot of global biomedical or space research follows such a protocol; otherwise it would turn out to be prohibitively expensive, even for the richest and most progressive economies. Hope springs eternal. I too hope that gurdwaras will, in time, come to underwrite the programs of a new generation more readily and with a more open hand because a new generation would have first put its money down to serve their and our common needs. And then the young will surely look at the generations gone by and see that they stand on the shoulders of giants. I am also certain that there are many in each generation that willingly and ably bridge the generation gap to our mutual benefit. Will there be disagreements among the new activists when the money and credit are being doled and divvied out? You bet! I would be surprised and disappointed if there wasn't. We are human beings after all; enjoy the foibles and virtues that come with it Remember that you are lucky young people and much has been given to you both in talent and resources. You are much blessed. I remind both generations that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. I know that I am also talking to the young and the restless. Step up to the plate. It is your turn at bat. 'Tis the season ... for giving!