The Courage to Act
I served His Majesty the fourth King for 10 years on his personal staff, and it was a most wonderful experience.One of the most striking qualities of the fourth Druk Gyalpo is his kindness. He would always look into the welfare of all his staff… whether we were eating well, that we were not exposed to the cold… he would give us blankets when we travelled at night. This was a human quality I have not seen in people at that level. It meant that, while His Majesty’s wisdom soared high above, he had his feet planted on the ground.
His vision for Bhutan was drawn from his kindness and concern for the common people. In fact, His Majesty never had personal interests. There are many people in the world who are kind and great in thought and word, but do not inspire or produce action.
Time will tell that the sterling quality of His Majesty is his courage, courage to act and implement his wisdom. No common mortal could have done that. One of them is the drafting of the Constitution. The nation didn’t want it, people didn’t want it, but he felt it was necessary. He lived by his word and history will elaborate on that.
The whole world was sailing through a period of westernization that was interpreted as progress. His Majesty thought otherwise, and, here again, it was His Majesty’s wisdom that enabled Bhutan to strike the balance between culture, tradition, religion and development – a symbiotic process that has helped the nation progress.
His Majesty was never arrogant. Many times, minister and civil servants would submit: “You are a king, Your Majesty should not receive this person.” But His Majesty showed the example that national interest is supreme and not subservient to personal ego.
Right from the beginning, His Majesty talked about the environment and decentralization. Some of the ministers then said, “There is so much forest; why do we need to be environmentally conscious?” But we understand His Majesty’s wisdom and realize now how ignorant and wrong we were.
His Majesty strengthened the sense of nationhood and national identity by celebrating National day in remote dzongkhags. Everybody wore the national dress and kabneys, ate Bhutanese food, and played traditional games and sports. It played a very important role. The people were able to meet their King. His Majesty took part in the games and served the people. When His Majesty served drinks, people drank, because to receive from his hand is so sacred that it will cleanse defilements.
As recently as the 1980s, Bhutan was not known or respected. His Majesty transformed his nation. When we used to say we’re Bhutanese, people asked where Bhutan is? Now we are a nation that can hold its head high; we can talk to other countries. We are playing an important role in the international arena. Today, we are proud to say we’re Bhutanese wherever we go.
By abdicating, His Majesty taught us the real lesson of impermanence and showed us the strength needed to devolve power and authority in time.
Generally, leadership does not develop under a very strong leader. But His Majesty trained leaders, and we now have leaders to carry on the work that he started. This is one of His Majesty’s great contributions. Democracy is injected in the people so that more people will participate under a credible leadership and a fair system. His Majesty has always said that “good governance is central to a successful democracy.”
Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, Chief Justice