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.


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