A Birthday Pledge

So here we are, the Bhutanese family, many of us who do not know our own birthdays, coming together to celebrate the birth anniversary of our King. What does such a phenomenon mean? If we think about it with the mindfulness that is required, what is most meaningful about the event is that our “coming together” is more significant that what we understand as “celebrating”.

Such a unification of a nation’s population is not as much a physical gathering as it should be a merging of minds. In essence, we are talking about strengthening and refining the solidarity of our shared consciousness.

Such a collective consciousness, which is the spirit of a national identity, is best understood in the words of His Majesty The King himself – “nation building”. And we are beginning to see that such a process is already being initiated from the Throne – the reformation of governance and the transformation of society.

Changing times brings changing needs and today’s generation of Bhutanese is becoming aware of our growing responsibility in this process. But, if we are to be honest with ourselves, it is a thought process that is just beginning. 

Let us face facts. Some trends are worrying, if not frightening.

Bhutan of the old days was built by our forefathers on cultural values drawn from nature, that are largely intact, and a spiritual heritage that has been preserved. In anticipation of the times that their generation could not predict, they prepared us – meaning they sent us to school -for the task of moving with the times. 

If we allow ourselves some candid reflection, we are not quite ready to deal with the restructuring of posterity. Traditional values as we hear them, terms like driglam-chhoe-sum, sampa semke, jawa-choed-lam, le-judre – are austere, not fully understood, terminology to many Bhutanese.

As our traditional learning curriculum, which was limited to monastic education, gave way to an “international” (read western) school system that we adopted, we saw two trends. We did not have the texts nor the teachers to learn traditional values that were largely intuitively drawn from life and we rejected the values that came from a foreign culture.

If we look at a basic priority like education, we saw three elected governments overturn the education system three times. We heard our citizens express deep concern about the decline of quality tourism and then saw our parliament make decisions that would exacerbate the problem. We saw political pressures influence government decisions.

Our notion of tradition is still limited to clothing and etiquette and that is being overwhelmed by powerful media representing both the positive and negative aspects of globalisation. Meanwhile we have even started inviting foreign “experts” to teach us human values. And we have honed the ability to engage rhetoric – adopting Gross National Happiness as a vision and being carbon negative are commendable, even venerable in this age – but are they real achievements or just talking points? 

Why are more Bhutanese citizens moving from the village to the city and then to New York and Australia? Why are we seeing the growing gaps – between the haves and have not’s, between the rural and urban populations, between the mentality of the young and old, gaps between organisations and institutions of governance, and between national vision and implementation?

What we do know is that Bhutan is changing at a pace that is not easy to comprehend and impossible to control. What we also know is that we require long-term vision, not short term goals. And we know that such tasks are too large and too vitally central for Bhutan’s future to be left to any section of the population including the government.

Fortunately we have reason to hope. We have what we call the Bhutanese system – the system that has dared to be different – the system that has always made the right decisions at the right time – the system that we must preserve.

The Bhutanese system is the Throne, the three arms of a democratic governance structure (judiciary, executive, and legislature), a dedicated security force, a private sector (albeit a lopsided one), and a growing civil society that includes an educated youth population and the free media.

The wisdom emanating from His Majesty The King is that impulsive and reactive behavior must be replaced by clear thinking and professional implementation. In the Royal concept of a 21st century roadmap is the adoption of appropriate technology as the tool and strategy to achieve our aspirations.

We see some ideas emerging and being nurtured – a diversified GNH economy, agriculture which includes niche Bhutanese food products, creativity in culture and handicraft products, education and training in technology prioritised, rural Bhutan stimulated, upgraded health services, traditional values revitalized.

We are also recognising mistakes that need to be reversed – like poorly planned urbanisation, neglect of pro-youth policies, poor coordination among government institutions, the malaise affecting public servants, absence of intellectual discourse, the ability to deal with unwanted trends like corruption.

On this auspicious day – the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King – let us reflect the inspiring and invigorating long-term vision that is emerging with increasingly coherence. We are seeing reform in national governance with the democratization process, and we are anticipating the transformation of Bhutanese society with the introduction of a well-thought national service.

Let us pledge that we will be a generation of Bhutanese who will achieve the Bhutanese dream.  

That would be a meaningful birthday gift for our King.

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