Growing up, I always felt a pressure to represent Sikhi well. In my mind, the question would be “ what if this is the only Sikh person that this individual meets/has met, and I don’t answer their questions adequately?”
Being the only Sikh in my class, I would get asked tons of questions. About my beliefs, about my long hair, about my clothes if I was wearing something traditional. For a child, it’s somewhat overwhelming. It points out the fact that you are different. I recall a simple project in elementary school: bring a family photo to class and talk about it, pass it around. Well in our family photo we were all wearing traditional clothes. I got SO MANY questions. Over time, I think I just got used to the fact that I would have to answer the same questions over and over. And have a bunch of random people asking me questions about my hair wherever, whenever- at the mall, airport, etc., at the most inconvenient of times. But those were the simple questions. Those were the easy ones, those were the ones that I was prepared for.
As I have grown up, the questions are harder and more complicated. Rooted in religious and cultural issues. Someone asked me a couple of years ago “If your parents don’t approve of who you want to marry, will they kill you?” with a serious and curious expression on their face. They weren’t joking, they really wanted the answer. I’m sure the shock was probably still evident on my face, despite my efforts to keep my jaw from dropping in horror! In my mind I was thinking: how could you ask that considering I don’t know you that well, you are making some serious judgments about my culture/religion and family; if you knew my parents, you certainly wouldn’t ask that; that is so offensive right now I don’t know how to reply. But somewhere within myself I managed to realize that it was so much better that they he was asking instead of assuming. That he had the courage to put his thoughts to words, and even though it stings, it gives me a chance to correct his assumptions. Wouldn’t it be so much worse if he had just gone on thinking that? Now my answer doesn’t come out angry, defensive, like an attack on the person asking, closing down communication when it’s actually an opportunity for learning. (Of course these questions come at the most inconvenient of times... I had just written one exam and was about to write another!)
Since then, I have realized that people asking questions has helped me learn. Learn about myself, learn about my religion. Learn about the cultural contexts in which this is all happening. I do my best to share what I learn. I become less concerned about answering perfectly, as if I knew everything, and more interested in answering to the best of my abilities and taking the time to think more about it later, dig deeper. I use it as an opportunity to ask other people questions, and to ask myself more questions.