Wellbeing in education

The second day of the webinar focussed on the importance and relevance of wellbeing in schools. This is because of the role of teachers now changing from being a repository of information and knowledge to that of a provider of wisdom and inspiration. To fulfil this, however, first teachers need to feel well, feel motivated and feel inspired. While much of the reforms in education have focussed on school curriculum and students, it’s time teachers take the centre stage.

Second, social and emotional learning (SEL) has to be integrated into the classical system of education. It is not a choice of either-or. Rather it should be a merger of the two. Meaning both the IQ and EQ have to be embraced.

In the real world, from my own experience running various organisations, employees rarely default on what they studied. Rather all issues I had to deal were HR related, such as insubordination, misuse of office property, false financial claims, ego trips, emotional outbursts etc. In short, all related to EQ and almost never concerning the IQ.

Therefore, as parental education decline (because parents are busy earning the livelihood) teachers have to take on the additional responsibility of making our children emotionally and socially intelligent.

It is, therefore, heartwarming to witness initiatives in recent years in this direction. Topics such as mindfulness, meditation and positive psychology have come into the discourse in the education system as well as in governance.

During this session my colleagues, Tshering Eudon and Karma Doma Tshering shared the experience of the ELC Schools in embracing the Educating for GNH Initiative in 2010 and then piloting the Four Pillars of Wellbeing Curriculum.

The stars of this session were the three students who have tried out the social and emotional learning and how they benefited.

Leadership communication

In March 2020, the country went into a “lockdown” where schools were closed, and classrooms moved online. While the focus of the government and the public has been on students and their learnings and exams, teachers and school administrators faced some of the most daunting challenges. Almost overnight, classes and course materials had to be delivered through distance-mode putting additional stress on the teaching profession. One of the responses to that call was the formation of VTOB (Voluntary Teachers of Bhutan). On the request of this group, I conducted a webinar for teachers on the topic, compassionate leadership and communication.

My choice of this topic was based on the premise that in this digital age, where information and knowledge are lying around everywhere, the role of the teachers will be to inspire and facilitate and produce leaders. Otherwise the new generation of Bhutanese will grow up with the illusion of being wise and knowledgeble, while all they have is a sporadic set of disjointed information gathered here and there from the social media and search engines.

I introduced the participants to the following:

Three rhetorical approaches

  • Ethos (ethics)
  • Pathos (passion)
  • Logos (logic)

Three personal communication approaches I use:

  • Begin with WHY
  • Follow the Rule ofThree
  • Tell stories

And thirdly, three elements of compassionate leadership

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Empathetic joy
  3. Wisdom of ramifications

The presentation slide can be downloaded here

Keep it burning

The flame never goes out in my house. 
A fire keeps burning all the time.

Yes, this is a metaphor that points to both the philosophy of my life and a physical reality based on a true story. Let’s start with the latter.

When I was growing up in Tashigang Tongling, we didn’t have matches. There were no matches those days. So the wood stove in the kitchen of the house had to keep the fire burning whole day. At night we had to cover the embers with hot ashes and lit up the next morning. The term is called “mi singsho” (Literally meaning, give birth to the fire or raise the fire). The “birth” of the fire in kitchen welcomes a new day. These practices are still there in many remote villages in eastern Bhutan – even now. If fire goes out, then we had to go smd fetch from our neighbour’s place, which was at least half a mile away. As todler that was a long walk.

Childhood memories, or traumas, follow you into your adulthood. Some kill you, some make you stronger and some just philosophical. In my case, with this thing with fire, I made it my life motto: Keep it burning – both philosophically and physically.

So a flame never goes out in my house even now. With urban amenities replacing the mud fire stove, the flame is now in the altar room, where a butter lamp burns – day in and day out.

It just reminds ne never to let the Fire die in your heart. And not to let the flame go out in your house.

To selfie (the charity) or not

“Raba raba warong. Shisha shisha warong” is a phrase that comes from my area in eastern Bhutan. Told in my mother tongue, Tshangla, it literally means “Goat goat horn. Sheep sheep horn” and the proverb implies that we are all different and that we have our own ways of doing things. For, the horn of a goat is straight, and that of a sheep is curly.

During this on-going pandemic there has been quite a lot of debate on whether people should make their acts of generosity, or volunteerism, public. One school of thought strongly argued, and even went on to shame the do-gooders, with the argument that one’s acts of generosity should be almost a secret. Otherwise it not a good deed but a publicity stunt. While I respect this view – and all the constructive views and opinions because we now live in a democratic society, my position is the exact opposite. 

First of all, as the Tshangla proverb goes, as much as one’s good deeds should be personal and a spiritual journey, it should also be left entirely to the person to decide whether to advertise the selfies from the frontline, pictures of volunteerisms or the other altruistic acts. After all, we are all different and every personal choice, or decision, needs to be respected. After all, there is no harm to any third party.

Furthermore, to provide a broader context, the social media is swarmed by fake news, conspiracy theories, and various scams that otherwise wouldn’t find a space in decent public forums and in the mainstream media. Furthermore, the social media has also come to now host the public discourse. It is both the source of information and the space for vibrant discussions. Eventually, the social media shapes the individual thoughts, and also the public opinion, and to certain extent even the policy making.

Therefore, my reservation on this issue is: if all the good and well-intent people hide their good works or views, or worse still, if their acts are slammed as showy or swanky, then the social media will be completely inundated by narcissists, critics, whiners, skeptics and sociopaths. And we all know that there has not been a short supply of these characters in this pandemic – not in Bhutan and definitely not anywhere in the world. 

Sadly, the world needs some good news, and reasons to smile. Human interest stories and heartwarming acts need to come out and dominate the public sphere so as to spread the message of kindness, compassion, selfless service and humanity. I say, “sadly”, because these are becoming rare nowadays.

One shining example of what I am talking about is the Facebook initiative, Citizens Giving Back, where inspired by our fellow Bhutanese who were giving even their last Ngultrum, many unexpected people came forward and gave what they could, or what they had. I believe, more than 10 million ngultrums have been offered to the government, which can now at least buy enough face masks for all the health workers to outlast the pandemic. How more beautiful can it be?

My invitation therefore is that, during these depressing times, keep the smily selfies and selfless acts flowing. Let us not be overwhelmed by professional hecklers or enamoured by superficiality. Let the social media be conquered by deeper sense of loving kindness, generosity and hope – and not by hate, fear or negativity. This, I believe, is who we truly are as a nation – and what we need right now for our country, and for the world, to heal.

#LockdownDiaries

Lockdown ends

#LockdownDiaries

August 31, 2020

Day 21 of lockdown ends with 108 prostrations to our protecting deities, to my lamas and to my ancestors – to thank them for alerting us with the Gelephu woman case, which sent the country to a lockdown. Imagine if that had not happened. Despite all our tantrums and complacencies, it is my firm belief that our tutelary deities have not abandoned us. 

Legend has it that deity Pelden Lhamo appeared in Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel’s dream to wake him up from his sleep because his Tibetan rivals had gathered 200 ngagpas to conduct a massive sorcery rituals. Likewise I believe our deities woke us up from our laxity towards Covid 19 with the Gelephu case. As much as we are alarmed by the recent spikes in positive cases, it could also have been worse. We never know.

To all those who have been affected and hospitalised, Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese, I pray that you all recover soon. Compassion and solidarity are what we need, irrespective of our nationalities.

Besides the valuable lessons we are all learning from this crisis, I am still inclined to believe that in a broader perspective, years down the line, we will look back at this period and be convinced that everything happened for a good reason.

Meanwhile, may the blessings of our deities, divinities and our ancestors never cease. 🙇🙇🙇

Misinformation & Disinformation

In crisis communication, there is a premise that information is the first victim in any crisis – be it war, a pandemic or civil unrests. It seems that this hypothesis has proved to be true in this on-going global pandemic.

Communication gaps have been happening with different people understanding the same messages in different manner coming out from the same course. Fake news have been hitting our mobile phones and social media newsfeeds. Unfounded conspiracy theories, like government hiding information, is taking root, which, as a result, is pushing the small team of media officials in the government to wage an information war on several fronts.

Misinformation

The first concept we need to understand is what is called misinformation. This can be defined as information that is inaccurate, or false, but not created to cause any damages intentionally. For example, someone could share an outdated news or totally an out-of-context information without realising the consequences. This is inevitable and it happens all the time, even the official communication. In many ways we accept it as a norm – as a communication gap or simply as miscommunication.

Disinformation

Of totally different nature is disinformation, which is false information that are disseminated to deliberately create confusion, or to harm an individual or institutions. It originated during the the Stalin era as State propaganda that were directed towards the West. Under the current circumstances some of the fake news and wrong information circulated in the social media would fall under this category. In these trying times for everyone, where the limited resources and people are wasted to counter such mindless activities, I feel this is a crime. And I hope that law enforcement agencies will not take them lightly.

Information is the first victim in any crisis – be it war, a pandemic or civil unrests.

At the heart of the matter, though, is the gullibility of the mass, or the inability to separate the truth from the fake. Of course, what is even scarier, these days, is the superficiality of our people brought about by easy access to information – of thereby giving the illusion of being knowledgeable and wise. There is big difference between having information, being knowledgeable and possessing wisdom. This topic, of course, will be for another time. So, let’s go back to the point on gullibility. 

This behavioural pattern in a society can be exploited by groups or individuals trying to destabilise a country or its economy or cause chaos. The best example is what happened with the US elections in 2016 and the Brexit vote in the UK. Being gullible, or superficial or ignorant, as a society makes it an easy target. And mind you, for all the nice things on us that you read or see in the foreign media, Bhutan is not a darling of everyone in the World. Unlike in the past this new era, which some communication scholars have termed as the Post-Truth period, will see information wars being increasingly launched as a way to dominate another group, race, or an economy.

I hope that some large and long-term investments in mass media literacy programs will be initiated and implemented in the country in the post-Covid era – in earnest. Otherwise, we may need to deal with severe consequences that may even border on a compromised internal security of our nation.

My (scholarly) life goes on

August 28, 2020, Thimphu

As the global pandemic keeps me happily locked back in my home country since the New Year holidays, my academic career has taken another leap forward. 

Happy to share with my friends here that a paper I co-authored has been accepted by the prestigious academic journal, Language & Communication, published by Elsevier. 

The paper looks at the chronotopic affordances of technology in a remote community in Lhuentse in Bhutan. This is my 7th peer-reviewed paper in international journals/conferences and 10th academic publication.

Special thanks to Kuenga Lhendup for opening up his village to me, and for making me a part of the community WeChat group, and for all the translation works from Kurtoepkha.

Thank you all for your wishes and blessings
(This is also the title of the paper)

Going spiritual

#LockdownDiaries

August 25, 2020.

Day 15 started with 108 prostrations to the Lama, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (chabdro as suggested by one of my lamas). 

Since Day #1 of the lockdown, inspired by Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche through his post, I have undertaken this lifelong dream (read as challenge) to do 108 prostrations daily. It is not easy, especially for me, with my chronic back pain. My poor back was also what kept me away from committing to this till now. 

So I started off slow – with 27+27+27+27 spread over the day. We are in lockdown anyway. Then after few days I increased to 36+36+36 and then to 54+54. Meaning I gradually increased the prostrations I could do at one go. I had to be strategic. 

Then I further increased to 72+36 from Day 10. And then finally to 108 – either in the morning or in the evening. I don’t know if it is me getting fitter or is it the blessings (jinlab) of the prostrations, but I feel I can fly now. 😎😎😎

This is my journey of this simple (superb in my case) accomplishment, and hopefully remains as a legacy, from this first lockdown of 2020. Maybe if it were not for this lockdown, I would have never made it. Some things come in life as a blessing

Turn on the engines 🚗 🚘 🚙

August 23, 2020

It is Day 13 of the lockdown in Bhutan and most cars have been idle all this while. It is good for environment but bad for battery and the engine. In other words, you need to start your engines and keep it ON for 15-30 minutes to keep the battery alive. Depending on the car and the battery, the life of a battery is anywhere between 14 – 30 days. The reason is that car stereos, clocks, central lockings and car alarms consume batteries. Faulty electrical wirings or minor current leakages are also common. So if you don’t want to find a dead battery, turn on the engine today or tomorrow – so that you recharge the battery and lubricate the engine. Another thing, don’t raise the engine.

For those who are quite hands-on, after turning off, open the hood cover and disconnect the negative terminal of the battery.

Cheers everyone. Stay inside
😴😴😴😪😪

Have we failed?

August 19, 2020

One of my former students, who works in Immigration in Phuntsholing, and a front liner, dropped a tearful voice message the day before. He sounded devastated and resigned that the virus has entered Bhutan despite the best efforts. He said that he even risked his life on many occasions patrolling the jungles at night – forget about the heat, dust, hunger and other inconveniences. And now this!

As his former guru (actually a guru is always a guru), I am proud that he shouldered his duty with a great sense of responsibility – and is also ready to take the blame for the collective “failure”. Like him, I am sure there are thousands at the front line who are getting this uneasy feeling of having failed. So, let me share to them what I shared with him. Hopefully it makes you feel better. 

The short answer: You have not failed. No one has failed.

And for the long answer. Yes, the virus has entered the country. Meaning the much-dreaded local transmission has happened – putting everyone to a standstill. Yes, this is unfortunate because it puts a load on everything from governance to public health to education to economy to social relations. However, as much as we all did everything, we also knew all along that it was just a matter of “when” and never a question of “if”. While the mission was to keep out the virus, it was a mission impossible, from all angles.

I don’t know about others but I feel that your have not failed. We have not failed. Instead our leaders and our front liners have managed to keep out the virus (meaning local transmission) for a good seven months. This is a World record. And time, any epidemiologist will tell you, is the most precious commodity in a pandemic. Even the “greatest” nations on Earth have tried and they failed even before us. The US even blundered with the lead time it had, while we have made the best possible use. And for this, each and every person out there should be proud. Seven months! 

No country can prevent a global pandemic. But every country can prepare if we get time. In this seven month we got this precious time, where we managed to stock up our food, medicines, fuels and essential goods, which should now carry us through for some time. We also grew vegetable more than we ever did in recent memory. And thousands of Desuups were trained and are now providing a priceless service to the nation. Most importantly, our health system had time to prepare. Over a billion worth of medical supplies have come in. We also have one of the highest testing rates in the world. A sign of success and not a sign of failure. 

When this thing is all over, I can bet that the way our medical system dealt with this menace, the manner in which how our King and government placed greater priority on life rather than money, would become a text book manual for countries to deal with pandemics in future. In fact, today as we go through the lockdown, our tantrums are mainly directed at food supplies and logistics, which I am sure will improve. Although, to quote a line from the film, Seven Samurai: Why to worry about the bread, when your head is about to fall? Unquote. Still.

As we move into the second week of the lockdown, my one concern is that people living in crammed apartments (some with their pet dogs) may go into depression, domestic violence or painful divorces. I also hope that our people at the frontline don’t get burnt-out or lose their focus, energy or enthusiasm. Working in a high-stress environment over an extended period can take its toll. Those of us sitting in our cosy homes, and those who can, should do everything to support our front liners in every possible way. 

We may have lost the battle to keep the virus out, but we will win the war to eliminate it – or at least break the chain of infection. We will win because, first, genuine care, concerns and compassion have enveloped us all. People who have lost their jobs are getting a stipend. Families who can’t afford are given free vegetable. Voluntary donations and contributions to the State have hit historic record. Even stray dogs are fed and are not left behind. 

Second, there is rock-solid unity and teamwork like never before – in former ministers working as Desuup volunteers, in royal prince and princesses in Orange uniform helping to patrol the streets, in government secretaries and directors distributing the supplies; and above all, our Prime Minister who is ready to listen and adopt the traditional Bhutanese what-we-don’t-have-we-borrow and what-I-don’t-know-I-will-ask approach. Of course, not to mention our King who is the epitome of service before self – and care for all Sentient Beings. 

And third, we will win because we have social capital. Studies from other countries have suggested that in places where there is strong social capital, the country does well (Example – Italy, New Zealand and South Korea). Where there are divisions and individualism, there are deaths (Brazil, US). 

So, no! We have not failed. The fight is not over. And we are just warming up. 😎😎😎

My last text message to my student was: “You have done your best. Thank you. Now we are all front liners.” 

In this war there are no front liners or back-benchers.
✌️✌️✌️