Kindness is the glue that holds Bhutanese society together. In an often hostile world, we revel in the traditions and glories of this beautiful country. It is a special place in so many ways.
As a resident of Thimphu, and a long time observer of Bhutan and the Bhutanese, I feel my time in Bhutan has been pure joy and a glorious encounter with deeply spiritual people who understand equanimity, and who also know how to have a good time. How lucky we are to live in this remarkable country at the top of the world.
The government and people of Bhutan do so many things well. There is a working Royal Family, a benevolent Monarch, and a government that protects nature, works to help its people, and commits to conservation and preserving the country’s remarkable culture.
People in Bhutan have a chance to improve their lives and are committed to being better human beings.
I’ve witnessed the country’s journey from a Monarchy to a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. It was His Majesty The Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck who pronounced that the country would become democratic in 2005. It was revolutionary, but without a revolution, a remarkable feat.
As people began to represent themselves, to make laws, and to create a robust democracy, it became clear that the task of self-rule is daunting. There are many responsibilities. Citizens must be informed, and those eligible must vote.
That a record 54.3 percent of eligible voters turned out in the last election on April 20th is remarkable, and speaks highly for the Bhutanese sense of civic duty. Civics is more than voting in elections, though.
Students are taught civics in school, how each branch of the government (executive, judicial, and legislative) works, what citizens must do for the government, and what rights they have as citizens. They learn that being a citizen is a give and take. As a citizen of Bhutan you must vote, pay taxes, keep the country clean, preserve natural resources, be good neighbors, and look after your fellow citizens, among other things.
In turn, you get free healthcare, free education for your children, an innovative and effective government (trust me), clean air, healthy food, safety, peace, and protection.
Considering that many of those living in Thimphu are one generation or less from village life, it’s normal that many of the town’s residents are struggling with this notion of civics. Thimphu is getting crowded. There are a lot of cars. Social issues like drug abuse, alcoholism, pollution, theft, and mental illness are facts of life.
Most Bhutanese understand that there is something special here and it’s worth preserving.
Keeping Bhutan clean, preserving natural resources, keeping people healthy and productive, there are so many weighty issues. But for me civics is crucial. Being a good citizen is about the small things, and doing the right things.
Last week in the sabzi market I was shopping for vegetables, and in the crowded market I spotted some lovely strawberries from Paro. As I made my way through the crowd toward the fruit, I saw the vegetable vendor pick up a tray of the strawberries and then he accidentally dropped them on the floor.
Most shoppers didn’t even notice as the man scrambled to pick up the delicate pieces of fruit before they were squashed. Some people simply stood and watched. But two children did notice, and they scrambled over and helped the man collect the strawberries.
That’s it, I thought. Pitching in and helping each other— something as mundane and trite as that— is the very thing that is so needed. Being aware of each other and helping out. We’re not too good to do it, are we? To me, this is a fundamental of civics. So shines a good deed in a weary world. What beautiful children, raised by beautiful parents. This is the world I want to live in.
By Linda Leaming
Linda Leaming is a writer and teacher and the author of A Field Guide To Happiness and Married To Bhutan. She lives in Thimphu.