Bhutanese society is on high alert. Sections of the government are working round the clock, senior government leaders are taking more initiatives than they normally do, citizens are cooperating and supporting each other, civil society volunteers are helping to coordinate social activities, youth are being encouraged to stay home, the news media are generally on their toes, and people seem to be generally better behaved.
There is also an enhanced and shared consciousness about maintaining health and hygiene. Most of us have never washed our hands so often or cleaned our houses so thoroughly. Officials along our porous southern belt are more vigilant in dealing with cross border movement of people and goods. We are staying home more than normal, which means closer intimacy with families – a blessing in disguise.
This is the spirit of coming together when faced with a common threat, not entirely spontaneously but with guidance and leadership, as always, from the Throne.
Of course some inevitably fall by the wayside, including school children roaming the street in groups, businesses taking advantage of the panic, people hoarding essentials, and other forms of selfishness. But, generally, there is a sense of an extended family working together.
Can this be the Bhutanese system that we want, a system that functions because we are mindful and prepared and willing to act? The cohesion here comes from a sense of trust, trust in the leadership and, to an extent, trust in each other.
Here’s a somewhat provocative thought. Why is such motivation only a temporary one? What if we worked like this through the year?
There are countries and societies that do function with such diligence and effort. That’s how the Southeast Asian tigers became tigers. They were easy going islanders who decided, or were inspired, to work hard. Some of it came at a GDP-driven cost but the point is that hard work has results.
Today, there is a strong sense that Bhutan has reached a crossroad of sorts. In many ways the world has reached a crossroad of sorts. For example, technology has evolved with such rapidity that “imagination may truly be the only limit”.
It is at such a time that we should look ahead with optimism and determination. What would it take for us to maintain the momentum that the Covid-19 has stirred in us? Do we need common enemy – a common threat?
Ironically, we are faced with a menace more ominous than the virus. For Bhutan, it is the risk that, if we relapse into our old ways as soon as we sense the absence of the immediate threat, the Royal vision of preserving and strengthening the Bhutan that we have inherited for the future generations will be a dream.