So, the much-awaited National Day 2023 came and went.

We sang, we danced, we poured out our hearts, and posted selfies on social media. We shared royal images of our Kings and Queens. We wrapped the buildings with the national flag. We recommitted our undying love to our country on Facebook. And far away, on the foreign shores, we came out in colourful national dress. and got together and partied together.

We listened to our King who spoke from the heart, which got us fighting back our tears. Some, of course, were not as strong. They cried like babies. But that’s okay. Tears, as they say, is a language that God understands. In our case, our King does. Trust me.

We all pledged to solidly rally behind the King – to roll out the sleeves, and work together, so that we can leave a lasting legacy – a country better than we inherited, and a nation stronger than the one which our Fourth Druk Gyalpo gave his tears, blood and sweat for 34 years.

So, what is next? To be honest, as people, in terms of commitments and behavioural changes, if the past editions of the National Day are to go by, our patriotism seems to have a very short shelf life. The day after getting fired up, we are back to our old self. We are back to hierarchy, bureaucracy and VIP culture. Shopkeepers are back to idling away waiting for the customers, or jumping back to the get-rich-quick approach – instead of looking for new opportunities, learning new skills or innovating their products or services. Simply put, nothing much will change.

This is a big paradox, because I know our respect for our King is real, the tears are real and the feelings are real. And yet, as quickly as we get excited, it seems to die out as quickly. I have tried to analyse why this is happening. Here is one probable explanation.


The fire in our heart – or the lack of it

Blame it on the small-society syndrome, where what others might think, or say, determines our own thoughts and actions. Or blame it on our education system, which celebrates rote-learning over real learning, and competition over collaboration. One thing is for sure. As children transition to adulthood, somewhere along we manage to extinguish the fire in their hearts – and deprive them of their childhood curiosity, empathy, critical thinking and passion. Instead we school them towards conformism, conventions, complacency and unhealthy competition.

Who is, then, bewildered that we have a herd mentality and not individual creativity? How can we complain that everyone is opening Dhaka sales or tour agencies, or rushing to Australia? Why lament the fact that we don’t regard one another with the same level of respect we accord to, say, foreign visitors?

This is sad, because from my experience of having taught diverse nationalities in this short university teaching career, Bhutanese may be ahead in terms of individual brilliance. We need to encourage creativity instead of conformity, community in place of competition, and compassion over ego. We need to celebrate every student as a champion in his or her own right. Among other things, in Macau they grade the students as A+, A-, B, C and D – and for what they are worth individually – and not pitch one against the other by placing them as first or second, passed or failed..

Lately, I have decided to accept the hard reality that it is simply not there in us to be imaginative, creative, innovative or empathetic – definitely not among the average educated lot. It is nothing intentional. It is the result of how we are educated, and socialised. Therefore, those who can think, create or inspire, should lead, do and show. Those who are endowed with the agency to envision and see the future should offer themselves in the service of the greater good. Those who fully comprehend the Royal Vision, must break it down for others and list down the opportunities and potentials to help derive the maximum benefits.


The new vision

Every generation is presented with a challenge to prove its worth. This generation is now faced with the most pressing issue of its time – to secure the economic base of our country before it is too late. If Covid-19 has taught us one thing, it is that, despite all talks of globalisation, every country must ensure its economic independence, and fend for itself.

To start with, we Bhutanese must shred off the mindset that the world owes us something. First of all, we are, now, not even in the list of the least developed countries that warrants someone’s sympathy. Second, Covid-19 has revealed that when times are rough each country will take care of its own interest, which is, of course, fair enough. Bhutan has learnt the hard way to identify its key interests and pursue them – one way or the other.

Simply put, we need to build our own economic base, so that the future is not only guaranteed, but can also generate gainful employment with higher income. In the long run, hopefully, this would reverse the trend of out-migration, which to me, and I have said it before, is the most significant threat to our nation of our time.

The vision for an economic hub in Gelephu is towards this national goal of self-reliance. I don’t have the details, but after hearing His Majesty’s royal address, I have no doubt that it would be awesome.

Relight my fire

Whatever we plan, the youth of Bhutan will ultimately have to be a part of, and take ownership of the vision. So, how are our young people responding? What is my observation?

As the National Day drew to a close and the music filled the air of the Thimphu night, I took a stroll along Thimphu Norzin Lam, absorbing the celebratory mood, and taking pictures and posting them on my social media feeds. As I was doom-scrolling my phone for the images and videos of the day, I ran into several Instagram stories, in which our King and Gyalsey were featured, without the security details, standing in the stadium with some 20,000 and watching the National Day Concert.

Thousands of young people had their mobile torches on and were singing their hearts out to our King, pouring their love – and reciprocating the same love that the King had showered to the people that morning during the Royal Address.

The lyrics went something like, “Thanks to our past karma that we are born as Your people. If we don’t accumulate the same merit in this life, please let’s be reborn as other sentient beings in Your vicinity”.

The video, which is shared widely, made me teary again and will be etched in our collective memory for years to come. In this cry and chorus of thousands of our young people, and in this unprecedented act (you never sing directly to the King out of respect, or light a torch in his direction), I observed one thing, and that our Gen Z is different. They will do anything for our King, as our forefathers did – even lay down their lives to defend our country. Our youth are also ready to offer their blood and sweat, as my parents did when they built the first motor road with their bare hands in the 1960s.

Maybe my generation poured the water over the fire of their hearts, but those little hearts are far from being extinguished. They are still burning. Or maybe, it was our King who lit the fire again that morning – the fire of love, the fire of selfless service, and the fire that will warm the hearts of our small great nation called Bhutan.

Something, I see, is burning again. I think that something is called hope.


 Dorji Wangchuk (PhD)

Professor, writer, researcher