Once upon a time, there was a small principality, nestled between two giants.
It was a quaint and some would say backward land, which banned cigarettes and only allowed TV a mere ten years ago.
It had a small population of 700,000, most all of them Buddhists, and it got an idea. The idea was of course laughed at by all the modern powers, but the little country that could, didn’t despair, it quietly proceeded and continued thinking out of the box.
For this was an enlightened people, perhaps from their long hours of meditation. They seemed to have discovered something important. They realized that whether you claim it from God, or just because it’s right, people are born to be happy. They deserve that, and that should be every one’s highest goal. Any rational government, instituted by the people should have that as its aim.
They realized that a democracy was the best vehicle for pursuing the goal, and so the King abdicated, and was replaced by the son, whose powers were stripped completely. A new constitution was drafted and passed. No more attention to gross national product for this land. Instead the objective was gross national happiness.
It’s Prime Minister, Jigme Thinley, said that greed, awful greed was the root of what was wrong in the world economy. We had gotten it all wrong by measuring success by numbers that represented wealth. Instead, happiness was the key.
To this end, all the government agencies and programs are measured for success by how much happiness they bring to the people of the land. They reminded the great super power America, do you not have a document, written at the beginning of your history in which happiness was declared the national pursuit?
Of course, they recognized that happiness itself couldn’t be a goal, because in truth, that is a subjective notion and people define it for themselves. But they did understand that government should be putting in place the conditions under which human beings could attain what they felt was happiness for themselves.
Of course, such a system requires a thought out political theory, and the people are working on that. Ways to quantify and judge success help to determine what needs to be done next.
Specifically, the government has determined that the four pillars of a happy society involve the economy, culture, the environment and good governance. It breaks these into nine domains: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance, each with its own weighted and unweighted G.N.H. index.
The government looks at factors that one would seldom if ever see in the West, such as frequency of prayer and compassion, calmness and weird stuff like that. They care about how much time people work and play and spend with family and friends.
A lot of smart people work out mathematical models to define this further, and everything is reassessed regularly.
No one knows if this little place will have success or not in its quest to survive in the big ugly world of globalization. But it is to be commended by everyone that it has the courage to re-examine the entire matrix of how we do business.
I’ve been reading Walter Wink’s book, The Powers that Be. One of the shocking, to me at least, claims of the book is that profit is not the goal of business. Now this might shock you too, accustomed as you are to living in America where everything on earth is quantified by value and investment dollars and return.
But apparently even Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher on capitalism, suggested that the goal of business was the “common good.” Profit was but a means of measurement or a side benefit. Indeed Wink’s whole premise this that all institutions are supposed to strive for the common good, and are thus good by creation. Alas they often veer off that track and act in ways we consider evil. They are not evil he argues, but good institutions exhibiting very bad behavior. Like all of God’s creation, they are redeemable.
So maybe the folks of Bhutan have something to say to us in the West? Wink would state it quite differently, but really they are thinking along the same lines I believe.
We live in a cesspool of economic greed, a shrinking minority of the super rich, violence, and extreme pollution. Most of us are struggling to house, feed, educate, and properly care for ourselves and our children. We work at jobs we mostly hate, we haven’t the time or money to really relax, so we deaden our senses with mindless television, drugs and alcohol. We send our best off to wars where if they come back at all they are physically and mentally harmed so deeply they never attain their true potential as human beings.
It may seem pie in the sky that a little country of Buddhists is doing something so very radical and most here would say totally impractical. But it’s time to examine radically new ideas. These old ones just purely suck.
AFeatherAdrift, reporting from Utopia meadow, deep in the woods of Iowa.
**Learn more about Bhutan, here.