Not Even a Fly

The reason I went to Bhutan was to see at firsthand a country devoted to the principle that the happiness of its people is more important than the total value of all its saleable goods and services.

Thirty years ago, the 4th King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that Gross National Happiness trumped Gross National Product. Happiness became a national goal, alongside the free health care and education now enjoyed by the Bhutanese. The King was saying, in his own way, what the Beatles had said twenty years before him:

For I don’t care too much for money
For money can’t buy me love.

The first thing I noticed was what wasn’t there. I didn’t hear a single argument anywhere, or a raised voice for that matter. There must have been some, but not within earshot of me. Then there are the drivers. How people behave behind the wheel tells you a lot about how they behave behind closed doors. In Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, there are 4,000 cars. I never heard anyone honk a horn. The town used to have a traffic light. It had to be removed. The people didn’t like it. Now in the center of town a single traffic cop with white gloves directs traffic as if the drivers were an orchestra and he, the maestro. I’m not sure of this but I don’t believe there is a single traffic light in the whole country.

The Bhutanese believe that everything has a right to life. To live like that requires discipline. Nancy tried it. One day a wasp flew into our van. Instead of whacking it with her Guide to Bhutan, she used the guide to nudge it out of the window. The wasp stung her...badly. The welt stayed around for days. Another day she was more successful. A fly had fallen into my tea cup and was floundering on the surface. A few more seconds and it would have drowned in its hot buttered ocean. Nancy ladled the fly onto the tabletop with a spoon, blew gently on it until its wings were dried and watched contentedly as it flew off.

This attitude toward all living things would put me to the test. I hate mosquitoes.

William Wadsworth wrote a sonnet the first line of which is the title. It begins:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The Bhutanese live as if they have taken these lines to heart, or rather, it is as if Wordsworth learned them from the Bhutanese.

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