A country of Tendrel

Last year, during the Royal Address on the National Day, His Majesty reminded us, as he often does, of our true nature as a nation: Bhutan is a country defined by Tendrel – the concept of interdependence, causality, and collective effort. In essence, we can only thrive as a people, and as a nation, to the extent that we embrace our interdependence. 

For the past few months, even as the tragic Covid-19 pandemic has been unfolding before our eyes, it has also been teaching us the implications of our personal and global interdependencies. The crisis also continues to reveal the true character of every country. Throughout the world, it has rapidly endangered health care systems, exposed systemic financial vulnerabilities, and deepened economic and social inequalities. In particular, however, the different response decisions by countries have highlighted the value of leadership as the most important national resource. 

As a Bhutanese, it has been a matter of pride to see our society rise to the occasion. The government took strong, pre-emptive, and effective measures to contain the outbreak. The Prime Minister has been leading with calm and measured tone. Public health officials have worked tirelessly and bravely under immense stress. The Je Khenpo and religious bodies have provided much needed spiritual guidance. Armed Forces and DeSuups continue to provide invaluable support. The media has been a source of reliable information. Civil servants, corporations, private businesses, and individuals from all sectors have shown unprecedented solidarity, contributing in cash, in kind, and in kinship.  


Causes and conditions

Midway through the Royal Address, His Majesty shared three primary concerns for Bhutan. 1) The need for a more dynamic and progressive economy. 2) A focus on fostering responsible and capable future citizens. 3) The lack of systemic efficiency despite our small size. 

The Covid-19 crisis has shown us just how prescient these thoughts were. His Majesty had already discerned areas of improvements in order to deal with future problems. The current situation merely puts a sharp focus on them. 

Specifically, the last few months have highlighted what we need to continue enhancing: administrative coordination, responsiveness by public authorities, effective communication, leveraging technology and big data, monitoring and evaluation structures, compliance to law and order, and social and political unity. We are also learning some ugly truths about ourselves, from our culture of entitlement and rent-seeking behaviour, to our external economic and financial dependencies, and feeble measures to deal with the changing workforce.

However, the collective response in fighting Covid-19 from all segments of our society demonstrates the level of operational efficiency that can be achieved if we work in unison. We can unlock the advantages of our small size when we truly want to. In fact, we already have all the important elements: a pragmatic and thoughtful Monarch who sees, inspires, and leads; A democratic system that can manage and implement plans and policies efficiently; and a citizenry that understands the merits of a collective society.

A rising dependency 

At the end of his Royal Address, His Majesty remarked: “It is our collective effort and hopes, our integrity, and our unity in working for national objectives, that will make these undertakings possible.” 

A nation thrives only when it can productively adapt to change. This change carries a necessity –  not just an opportunity – to refine the underlying structural and value systems that bind us together. Now more than ever, we have become dependent on each other’s capacities. The crisis has opened many eyes to the need for more collective responsibility, and we must continue to keep this cohesive focus on tackling problems long after the contagion has ended. 

Bhutan is a country defined by Tendrel. As we continue dealing with the impact of Covid-19, may the force of our collective merits continue to arise. May we value the strength of our interdependence. May we all serve our Tsawa-Sum with Tha Damtse. 

Contributed by Rabsel Dorji