Three days ago, I had the most fortunate opportunity to share a panel on ‘Transmission of Values and Traditions‘ with Bhutan’s esteemed thinkers, movers and shakers. Feeling a bit unnerved and frankly undeserving amidst the awesome lineup, I was eventually able to put my racing heart at ease by putting my trust in VTOB’s (the organizers) consoling message to us that this diversity was intentional, in order to generate a multi-disciplinary conversational exchange. My role within the discussion, was to provide a youth’s perspective on ‘Citizenship Values‘.
Very much aware of the responsibility to speak and frame things carefully especially with the word ‘youth‘ looming above, which by default is latent with suspicious and skeptical connotations, I called up some of my trusted young friends in hopes of representing our collective views better. Through the calls, I quickly realized that for almost all of my friends, the concept (i.e. Citizenship Values) was vague and uselessly abstract in its significance within their lives; one of them even told me that it was the first time he had been asked about this!
That was when I began looking for an appropriate and much more relatable concept which would require very little explaining but would resonate on a deeper human level nonetheless. With deep confidence that I would come across what I needed in my King’s royal addresses, I began my investigation, paying special attention to words, ‘Youth’, ‘Citizen’ and ‘Values’. That was when I came across this line addressed at the National Graduates Orientation Program:
“We all love our country, but, remember to love your country is one thing but quite another to love your country in the most intelligent manner”
I had found the language that I needed and with it, my first words on the first presentation slide. As with any problem that I face in my professional career, I felt it appropriate to touch on where we currently are, before we dive into the substantial part of the discussion. Many a times, I have seen people jump directly into the main part of their topic and then spend more time disagreeing and misunderstanding each other’s points rather than constructively building upon one another’s. The reason for this was simple: They had not acknowledged and understood each other’s starting point, i.e. the assumptions that all of us as humans hold helplessly.
That inspired the first question in my presentation, ‘How do we currently love our country?’ As I reflected on the brief three years of experience as a young professional trying to make a difference in the country, I realized that our language of love for our nation remains dominated by the superficial and the material outer casing. We might point to our ghos and kiras; we might torture some poor American couple with a hearty heaping of ema datsi; we might go for a trip to the Motithang Takin Park; we might point with a naughty smile at the formidable phallus that proudly decorates an entire wall of a residence; but how often do we still talk about inner qualities? about values?
Participate in most forums or talks hosted on our culture & tradition, and our language and way of thinking remains akin to a delusional lover that is unable to move beyond the romanticized, frozen-in-time, memory of a past. We seem to be unable and unwilling to acknowledge our current circumstance with the dramatic change that has disrupted life itself in Bhutan.
We forget that culture and tradition is and always has been dynamic, changing and alive; what good is a static, museum-like piece if it does not allow us to honestly express our deepest human needs and questions?
Another current reality that finds expression in the way we love our country is the territorial and possessive kind; ‘this is how I love my country and I believe everyone should love the country in the manner that I do!” The biggest irony here however is that such a person forgets, the fundamental value and truth of diversity, which is the unshakeable basis for freedom. Consumed with the idea that there is only one way to love our country, anyone that proposes an alternative view or god forbid, a critical view, finds himself with a life long enemy. Given such realities, perhaps it is no wonder that words such as ‘collaboration’ and ‘coordination’ only find their reality in the papers of bureaucratic conferences and meetings.
Perhaps our picture of the ways in which we currently love our country seem grim and dismal; however it is only after we are able to see and acknowledge our reality with a sober mind and tongue (without the flowery and sugar-coated exterior that every impression-obsessed Bhutanese uses excessively to make their point), that we can forge our way forward clearly. I began thinking of our way forward to love differently and remembered a few lines where His Majesty offered a concrete philosophical approach.
Of the three-pronged approach laid out above, I focused on the second, ‘trust‘ because I believe it to be the greatest stumbling block in the youth’s potential to love our country intelligently. A few words stood out to me from His Majesty’s address: ‘timeless‘, ‘national importance‘, ‘inspire‘ and ‘motivate‘. Reflecting on my own experience as a youth that strives to make my parents and school proud, I realized how alien those words sounded to me! When were we given tasks of timeless and national importance during our days? I also realized that most of what I did, to make my parents, school and myself proud was not primarily out of inspiration or genuine motivation. Most of the reasons why Bhutanese youths do what we do is out of a inevitable sense of being told to do it. If you don’t believe me, just talk to a random youth about this topic over a coffee.
I am NOT an exception!
It is also untrue that youths of Bhutan are NOT to be trusted at face value; such a belief is similar to an apple vendor who opens a crate, unwraps the newspaper cover from an apple, discovers that it is rotten and generalizes that the rest of the apple must be so as well. Youths constitute the greatest demographic in Bhutan with over more than half of our population; out of that many, how many youths does one actually come to know, to be able to generalize to all youths of Bhutan? In any case, the analogy is vastly simplistic for a very simple reason: a person (especially a youth) is fundamentally different from an apple. A youth learns from his mistakes! A youth has the potential to transform! A youth hopes to do better! It is on this hope that we must allow the youths of Bhutan to love our country intelligently.