When the war in Ukraine unfolded, a nation’s sense of safety, security and survival was shaken to the core. In the city of Dnipro, which hadn’t yet come under the Russian attack at that time, hundreds of women came together on a Saturday morning to make Molotov cocktails to help the army fight the invaders. Arina, a school teacher among the group had said, “Nobody thought that we would spend our weekend like this, but now we are doing this and it seems like the only important thing to do. We just can’t live our ordinary lives even if we are safe, we have to do something.”
Something for whom? Something for what cause? And something at what cost? After all, it was not her house that was being bombed, and she was apparently safe; at least at that point in time.
The larger interest is beyond you. It transcends the individual and individual interest. And generally, individuals have a stake in the larger interest because it affects them, directly or indirectly, now or in the future. Sadly, many of us just don’t realise that.
In the popular story of “the tragedy of the commons”, the ranchers graze their cattle on a common pasture, some adding more animals to their stock to maximise individual profit but none caring for the pastureland. The pursuit of self-interest by individual ranchers ultimately renders the pasture unfit for grazing as there is no more grass left to graze on. The larger interest was ignored and everyone suffers in the end.
Organisations and countries that do well do so on the merit of collective strength. And the collective strength is derived from individual contributions inspired by the desire to serve the larger interest. Individuals may be talented and capable but unless they believe in, and take ownership of, the organisation or the country’s larger vision and consciously contribute towards accomplishing that, it will be challenging for organisations and countries to accomplish the greater good. Competition for individual success oblivious of the larger organisational or national interest, or worse still at the cost of it, will be disastrous.
Nation-building will always remain a work in progress, and it should be the collective endeavor of every citizen to take it to the next level. Progress is hard and change is disruptive. But that is how we move on to the next level. And that is how successful countries have come to where they are now, united behind the visions set forth by their leaders, and relentless and resilient in the pursuit of the larger interest. If wanting to belong to and identify with a strong, peaceful and prosperous nation is our aspiration, then building that nation is our responsibility, not somebody else’s.
Bhutan sometimes is referred to as a poor country with rich people.
This is a very undesirable portrayal of our country because if it is true, we have a problem. How can a country be poor if the people are rich? What we aspire to is for Bhutan to be a strong country with rich, happy people. While people can become rich in myriad ways, individual richness does not necessarily add up to national strength and character to make us a strong nation. Smugglers, tax evaders, poachers, unethical businessmen, corrupt officials etc., for example, could all be rich but a nation is perhaps better off without such people and their wealth. The pursuit of individual interest is important, but for our collective and long-term success as a country, it is critical that we don’t lose sight of the larger interest.
In Singapore, you talk to anyone from a taxi driver to a government official to a businessman, the narrative they have of their country and their role as citizens is the same. They say Singapore is a small, import-dependent country, without much land and natural resources where they even have to import their drinking water. “All we have are the Singaporean people, and we must give our 100% for our country to survive and succeed” is the catch line when Singaporeans describe their country or themselves. Today Singapore is amongst the richest countries in the world with one of the lowest crime and corruption rates, and the best of institutions and public services. It may be a small, import-dependent country but it is a strong country in many respects.
Inspired by His Majesty The King’s vision for a better future, Bhutan is currently undergoing major transformation in many key areas of nation-building. It is indeed crucial that we view it from the lens of the larger interest to make sense of all that is transpiring. It is not only important that we understand it ourselves and do our part in whatever we are doing, we must indeed educate and encourage each other along this transformation journey. While some level of confusion, unpleasantness and uncertainty is inevitable, there are enough reasons for us to be positive and hopeful that we will become a better, stronger country, sooner than later. And one such reason for our hope and optimism should be the realisation that each one of us is doing our best when the country needs us the most.
Contributed by Chewang Rinzin
The writer is the Director of the Royal Institute for Governance and
Strategic Studies. The views expressed in the article are his own.