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Community vitality disappearing?

Far away in Shah Alam, Malaysia, an international conference on Gross National Happiness is going on. Community vitality, one of the nine domains of GNH, is the theme of the conference.

From the GNH perspective, it is one theme that we should be looking deeper even at home. This is because the close community that we have so far been is now on the wane. If the concept of community is one of the most significant determinants of happiness, our happiness is threatened.

This is especially true in the urban community we live. And this is worrying because urban planners predict that by 2020, two years from now, 50 percent of the Bhutanese population is going to live in the urban areas. Researchers say that we have scored poorly on the community vitality scale when measuring happiness.

Predominantly a close-knit society, the way we live is being influenced by development and modernisation. The quality of relationships among and between the people and community, so far, had been sustained by the support, cohesion and interaction among people and community. This is disappearing fast.

As we live in a closed-door culture, we are seeing apartments being robbed immediately if they are left open. Neighbours have started complaining about the din of the rimdos and lochhoes performed in the rented apartments. We don’t know our next door neighbours and they fight over parking spaces.

The pro-social values we cherished are changing. For instance, the annual lochhoe, which until recently was a time for reunion and social gathering among the community is gone. The lochhoe, which the whole community enjoy feasting for two days, is cut short to two hours. Guests are not the neighbours, but office colleagues who feast on a whole day’s menu in a few hours.

If family vitality is an important component of community vitality, that too is changing. Family interactions are limited to social media and cable television. There is more time on Wechat and Facebook than for real people under one roof. Children too are distracted while senior citizens are lost in the apartments sitting their grandchildren.

In rural Bhutan, it is the same. The local tshechus, a time for gathering is now becoming a burden. The elderly farmers are getting lonely with their children working or looking for jobs in the cities. Our culture of social support is fast disappearing as people are gripped by consumerism and modernisation. The good tradition of zhing-rup (a form of volunteerism) among farmers is replaced by the competition of who can complete his work first.

Villagers who for long felt safe to keep their doors unlocked when out in the fields are now even seeing the village choetens are robbed off its nangtens. Sense of belonging, like collectively repairing the village irrigation channel by contributing labour for weeks is now left to the Zhung.

We will have to adjust to the changing socio-cultural environment, but in a GNH society, it is vital to not ignore our social capital.

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