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The Wisdom to Listen

Generations—Wayne Sparks and his grandchildren (l–r) Dylah, Destini and Dyion at a March Youth Peace Festival, Washington D.C., March 2024. Photo courtesy of Wayne Sparks.

Wayne Sparks: In my life, I’ve had problems with family, addiction and health. As a young single parent, I worked at the University of the District of Columbia and attended classes there part-time. I struggled with my responsibilities and a fear of writing, but with this Buddhist practice and sincere efforts, I was able to build trust at work and graduated in 2004. It has now been 45 years working in the university’s administration office, and over those years, I’ve met many young people from all walks of life.

Wayne: It’s much different from my time for sure. These days, I see how young people struggle socially. I’m sure social media and technology have something to do with it.

Over the summer, we have a program with high school students to help them get work experience. I’m always learning different ways to support them. Maybe for my generation, strict discipline was the norm, but for this generation, you can’t tell them what to do like that. So, I try not to be judgmental; they just need a mentor, an example to look to.

There’s nothing special—I just talk to each youth as an individual, ask them questions and listen to them. Sometimes they’ll talk for an hour about whatever is on their mind, and I let them. Afterward, I ask, “You feel better?” Often, they say it felt good to get things off their chest. And by listening to them, I find the wisdom to reach their hearts.

For example, one young man—an international student working part time—wasn’t showing up to work. We thought he wasn’t a good fit. When I ran into him, I asked if he was all right. He broke down in tears saying how he was on the verge of losing his place and how his mother was sick. I told him that now that I know what’s up, I can help. The next day, I brought him some resources and eventually got him connected to some young men in the SGI.

Wayne: I have my kids and grandkids, and the kids and grandkids of my siblings. On top of that, I see their friends and young people in the community. They’re all watching us whether we realize it or not, so it’s not what we say but how we act.

One summer, my youngest granddaughter stayed with me. I was doing my morning gongyo and saw her watching, so I asked if she wanted to join. She declined, but in the corner of my eye, I saw she was still watching me. Later that evening, she asked if I was going to do my evening prayers. I told her yes and asked if she wanted to join, and she did. She won an award and recognized it as a benefit from chanting. Since then, she’s been chanting consistently and went on to encourage all her siblings. They all practice Buddhism now.

I also make sure to invite them to our youth activities. Toward the recent March Youth Peace Festivals, I invited the youth in my family, and they invited their friends, too. In total, I brought 10 of them. They like the experiences, the connections and being able to share what’s on their minds. I think it’s very important that young people experience diversity—diversity of thoughts and perspectives—not online but in person. And at the same time, they need to see that others are going through similar things as they are, to feel they’re in it together.

Wayne: Chanting is key. Wisdom, confidence, patience—all of that comes from chanting. And a sense of humor is important, too.

No one’s perfect, and everyone’s got a story to tell. Sometimes it can feel like they’re talking at you, not with you. So I go back and chant for them.

Also, SGI activities helped me build confidence. Early on in my practice, supporting as an emcee taught me that I have the power to reach a person’s life through my voice and life condition.

It all comes back to respect. We have to be the ones to show respect. Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize what youth are actually struggling with. Whatever it is, we have to listen to them and help them recognize that this is their life to take responsibility for, while ensuring that they know we’re here for them. We have to show them that we can all be a bit more compassionate.

Kosen-rufu extends “horizontally” through growing networks of friends and “vertically” through the transmission of faith from parent to child, from one generation to the next. The only way forward is to entrust the future to the younger generation. (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, revised edition, p. 399)

April 12, 2024, World Tribune, p. 10

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