GNS begins from home

GNH won't be sold outside

A central theme of an article, I regularly assign to students I teach at universities around the world, suggests that, “people of all ages, races, gender, and nationalities must develop the capacity to speak ‘truth’ to power, regardless of the personal or professional consequences they may face by so doing.”

Regardless of how socially, politically or personally effective telling people what they want to hear may appear to be, it is dysfunctional for the people, organisations and cultures where it is practised.  Unfortunately, it is practised a lot in Bhutan.

The article is aligned with a book I assigned, entitled “How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed In The Back, My Fingerprints Are On The Knife.”  I could not assign those readings this semester, due to technology and resource constraints all-too-common at the Gaeddu College of Business Studies (GCBS).  I regret that I did not do more to provide the students with the wisdom, and practices they provide.  I am even more worried that social, industrial, and political leaders in Bhutan do not appear to be familiar with the lessons they provide.

Thus, while the outcome of the GNH conference in Brazil may be leaving some Bhutanese leaders feeling frustrated and stabbed in the back – catching the culprit is easy – LOOK IN THE MIRROR.

Recently, I failed to speak truth to power when GCBS was visited by a minister of the government.  He proclaimed, “ … the world will be adopting a new paradigm of economic development – GNH – by 2017, with Bhutan leading the way.”

I am sure his belief was sincere, but I couldn’t discern whether his remarks were based on folly, arrogance, naïveté, false pride, self-deception, ignorance, faith or hope.

Indeed, as it now appears, the Brazil summit on GNH will be producing yet another toothless UN type statement on GNH, which is greatly toned down from previous statements.  Clearly, as I expected, Bhutan and GNH’s fifteen minutes of fame is about up.

However, there is a lot of good, which can come from this development.  It should awaken the Bhutanese people to the importance of “speaking truth to power.”  I don’t mean speaking truth to any of the countries, who sought to tone down the language.  Rather, the Bhutanese need to speak truth to their own leaders!  Someone – many indeed – should have been telling your leaders that they were rushing to the world stage to proclaim GNH too fast, and with too little to offer.  Therefore, I would like to practice what I preach.  So here is what I’d like to say.

Come on Bhutan, did you ever really think the world was buying what you were selling?  The only people that naïve would be the people, who have never set foot in your land, or have been escorted around on neatly guided and well scripted tours.  At present, after nearly six months of working/teaching and travelling about the most progressive and developed side of Bhutan — call it the Punakha-Paro-Phuentsholing (3P) triangle — I will honestly say that Bhutan isn’t and wasn’t in the position to tell the rest of us how to conduct their affairs, or that they all needed to embrace an untested model of economic development.

My students, who will be graduated by the time/if this is published, can readily parrot the principles and pillars of GNH, but few can engage in any substantive dialogue about the concept’s underlying assumptions, implications, operations, benefits, limitations or applications.

In each assignment and class discussion, I regularly asked, “What are the GNH implications?

The result was either a recitation of the pillars or stone cold silence!

If this is the level of understanding of GNH possessed by the most educated elite of Bhutan, I shudder to imagine how they will attempt to implement even its most basic tenets, when they take positions in business or government.  Indeed, before espousing the efficacy and utility of GNH, a deeper level of understanding must be cultivated across the entire population.  Moreover, we need to ask and honestly answer the following questions about the state of affairs in Bhutan.  The questions could be framed as follows, “Does the typical Bhutanese citizen enjoy:

  • world class education from grades PP to 12;
  • access to Bhutanese-based internationally-accredited colleges and universities;
  • outstanding primary medical care and access to quality daily maintenance medicines;
  • the ability to purchase high quality goods, professional and basic services (plumbers, electricians, etc.) that are from Bhutan;
  • living in a residence that meets any standardised and acceptable set of building codes, and that is free from mold and other environmental toxins, hazardous to health;
  • freedom of religion or speech, including the right to assemble in front of the Royal Palace and call for an end to pursuing GNH;
  • would other citizens go to war to protect the rights of GNH or even monarchy dissidents?
  • living in or visiting a capital that is safe, secure and unpolluted;
  • expedient, reliable, outstanding customer service from either private businesses or government agencies that is free from bureaucratic red tape;
  • a government with substantially less corruption than that found in other nations;
  • living in a country that has near the lowest rates in the world for diseases, resulting from smoking, alcohol, or drug consumption;
  • affordable, reliable, speedy 24/7/365 internet access;
  • regular interaction with people, who hold radically different ideas and beliefs about everything, from the best football team to family values or social norms;
  • expedient and safe travel to major cities around the country;
  • breathing air that is 99.9 free from diseases, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia;
  • clean and environmentally friendly restrooms/toilets in public buildings and schools;
  • travel and see what the rest of the world has to offer;
  • a deep understanding of the strengths, limitations and personal impacts of GNH;
  • easily exchange Ngultrum for the currency of host country when travelling;
  • the right to vote on a “bill” or “law” that selects between GNH and GDP as the measure to follow in Bhutan;
  • an environment, particularly in the corridor, free from trash and bio-waste that are regularly collected and reliably disposed in an environmentally safe fashion?

The answer, for most would be, a resounding NO.

So it begs the question, “Who is Bhutan to tell the rest of the world what to do, especially given that such GNP countries such as Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany and, heaven forbid, the USA engage in and have institutionalised practices that are far closer to the practice of GNH than Bhutan?

I have visited, lived and/or taught in those countries. To most of the above, their answer is YES.

Therefore, I am very sorry, Bhutan, I love your people.  The warmth, which my family and I have been received, is second to none!  But it’s time to get real and get honest.  Please devote your time, efforts and preciously scarce resources to getting your own house in order.  You have to have something tangible to offer before someone can buy.

Brazil’s GNH conference is only a failure if Bhutan doesn’t learn the simple lesson that both charity and economic development begin at home.

Courtesy : The Kuensel


  1. Bhutanese rulers should stop propagating GNH as it serves no purpose. They should rather concentrate more on reducing economic inequality so prevalent in the country, the economic difference between Royals, Lyonpos and Dashos on one hand and on the other poor Ngalong, Sharchhops, Kurteps, Khengpas and Lhoshampas villagers who form majority destitutes, who have no access to political gains, and economic prosperity. GNH is nothing but a dream of stupid idiots who are least concerned with the actual plight of poor people who suffer from hunger, disease, malnutrition and economic deprivations.

  2. “You have to have something tangible to offer before someone can buy”, what a fusion of simple words!

    Let me add- we make refugees(one of the saddest condition for our own people), then, how could we explain the Happiness to other?

  3. Dear Dr. David,
    Thank you very much for bringing up fakeness of GNH that is simply enveloping the confined brains inside Bhutan. You may see how handful of guided people living inside Bhutan would respond your article or comments. They begin to curse in first hand; I would never like to write comments for that reason. Never mind for that, that they are all spoon fed and stereotyped people except some who do not respond because of the fear that they would get executed. This is what the GHN in Bhutan is. I am in the United States now because the GNH did not work for me to stay home. I am so desperate that why my King Jigme Singhey Wangchuck would began dreaming about GNH on seventies and brutally evicted more than one hundred thousand hard working genuine Bhutanese on Nineties? We need very few people like you who would be enough in bringing out the actuality of GNH which is only a failing propaganda.
    Thanks a lot for your international solidarity.

  4. Dr. David, your very brief article says a lot more than the piles of literature produced in the name of GNH Utopia. Unfortunately, a lot of westerners have not been able to see the romanticism in it, and much of the encouragement and pampering comes from them. Infact, there is more GNH talk outside Bhutan than within. It may not too risky to say that such a blind reception of untested ideas have strengthened the Bhutanese elites’ perception of what they are doing. And now, armed with this ‘rightous weapon’ called the GNH, they hope to march the developed world. GDP countries be careful!

    Geddu, the place where you lived is one of the well developed towns by Bhutanese standards. I believe you also went to its neighborhoods and watched GNH in action. Does a GNH Summit in Brazil, Canada or USA bring any change to those people living in these vilages?

    You have rightly seen the usefulness and the practicality of a concept that looks beautiful only in print.

    The set of questionaires you developed are approptiate and they could serve in assessing the wellness of the Bhutanese society vs GNH. However, there are a lot to add. For instance, the state of judiciary and its practices, the civil service rules, prisoner treatment, citizenship laws, property rights could have been investigated too, just to name a few.

    You are appreciated for your boldness, for ‘seeing’ and ‘sharing’ the truth. I beliieve you will be ‘seeking’ more truth about GNH in the days ahead. God Bless.

    Rp Subba.

  5. This article should have stayed on site for a long time. Unfortunately, it only had a ‘day’s web life here. I am surprised why the editors of BNS pulled it out in such a haste.

    Dear Mr Subba,
    We have not pulled out the article you have mentioned. It moves to its archive when we upload the fresh articles, which we do usually on a weekly basis. You can find it in the following link. Thanks for your comments.