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