A peculiar practice common to most Bhutanese meetings is that getting official feedback from the members present is almost as difficult as finding mineral water in the Sahara desert.
However, as soon as decisions are made and the meeting is over then the powerful medium of rumor mongering, distortions, ineffective backbiting and speculation takes over.
The danger here is that our leaders and organizations do not get honest and critical information which will help them make better decisions. Moreover actual information is distorted by rumors and speculation causing further confusion.
This in short hampers good decision making and hurts the truth especially in what is a largely oral society.
This practice is also counter-productive in a democracy where people elect the rulers and are also expected to have a say in what policies are beneficial to them or not.
On the other hand harsh but honest and accurate criticism in the media also generates a negative reaction from government officials. This exposes our cultural weakness in focusing on the ‘harsh’ and reacting to it instead of focusing on the ‘honest’ and ‘accurate’ part of the criticism.
In medieval Bhutanese history a peculiar problem for the government was in collecting even basic information on the people that were being governed.
Back then it was much more difficult to establish fact and truth and so what decided ones fate was the goodwill of the powerful local elite or appointed officials. This was because if one was not in his good books then a wrong word from the official to the ears of the powerful would seal ones fate.
Even in this day and age of mobiles, internet and modern communication some of these traditional problems of communication from our medieval era still carry on.
Facts often falls victim to rumors, genuine criticism is seen as being rebellious, quality feedback is minimal due to fear of consequences and even today the words of a bad adviser is preferred to the truth.
At one level the 2008 election results are a study in Bhutanese public communication. Many journalists and politicians were convinced in 2008 that PDP would win going by the number of voters promising to vote for PDP. What happened later is only too well known.
If the 2008 elections never took place then everybody would still be under the impression that Bhutan was about to get a PDP government.
In any other country in the region voters would have been more expressive on their choices. This traditional trait of secrecy is perfectly okay when it comes to elections but can misfire when it comes to other matters of the state.
While the oral tradition has its strengths the Bhutan of today is also being built on written words like the laws and acts that are being framed in the Parliament. It is disappointing to note that virtually every important law that is put up for public discussion virtually receives no comments.
However, once the law like the ‘Tobacco Amendment Act’ for e.g. is passed and it is too late then only there are some opinions on the matter.
Similarly when policy makers are about to take important decisions they should avoid getting unduly influenced by the feedback of an individual or a small clique with vested interests. If this is done then the decision is bound to fail and backfire as the larger public will not see it as being in their interest.
Governance and policy making is a science in itself, as one can only achieve good governance if like in science all the facts and information are thoroughly checked through research.
Governance decisions based on inaccurate information, emotions, fears, rumors and misconception will ultimately fail or lead to implications that are far worse than the decision itself.
A society that is unduly influenced by conspiracy theories, wild rumors and poor fact checking is like a forest on fire destroying everything good in it and leaving behind only a charred landscape.
For Bhutan to grow as a healthy democracy and a strong society it is time that we give up some of our old ways and learn to give and accept criticism, rely on factual information, not let our lives be ruled by rumors , prize the truth and above all communicate well.