Ugly Trouble in Paradise—or the Human Condition?
Even prior to first stepping foot in Bhutan and reading all of the literature on what a happy country this is, I have never been naive enough to imagine that there is a place on earth that is social nirvana. Traveling the planet frequently and experiencing first hand the infinite ways humans make negative marks on each other—ensures I’m a steadfast realist. Though I do believe that we are ‘designed’ to strive toward inherent goodness, I also have seen that we are naturally flawed and suffering beings. Perhaps one of our consistent and substantive challenges is to peel away the struggling layer and let our inherent goodness shine. So despite the glaring appeal of this place—the Bhutanese weren’t given a get-out-of-suffering-free-card. They are no exception to this observation.
Bhutan lives within a traditional culture that is based in Buddhism. Buddhism is based in accepting our suffering and within it, allowing ourselves to view our authentic self, our good self, and offer that to others. They have done a better job than any country I’ve experienced in hitting the mark—including the US, and this challenge continues as they allow more of the outside world into their traditional society. But the true summons that Bhutan faces is the same one as the rest of the world: To live cohesively as humans in their country and globally. Where there are humans there will be ugly strife. And as suspected, it was just a matter of time before I stumbled upon it.
One of the great things about the really brutal time change traveling half way around the planet, is that I wake up about 4 AM and am ready to go. I am a morning person by nature but the jet lag combined with the initiation of dawn at around 4:20 allows me to get a lot going prior to heading to the BOC office at 9. The downside is that around 3 in the afternoon I’m ready to take a nap. After days of non-stop activity and travel, I needed to give in to being a non-nap person. Yesterday after hitting up the farmers market, I crashed hard for part of the day, reading and sleeping. Which meant at 3 AM this morning I was ready to rock.
So I took off on a morning trot and decided to tour around the perimeter of the city. I was pleased to find other people jogging including a couple of groups of police personnel I would tuck in behind. Passing the large Chorten in the upper part of town I did a lap around with the others at their morning pilgrimage, then headed down toward the main road out of town to find the track and a couple of other landmarks I remembered from our last trip here.
In the early dawn I could hear the requisite dogs barking, pigeons cooing and deep reverberating chanting coming from the monastery in town. Then an unusual noise—a man yelling. In the distance a tall, slender young man was shouting at a woman and intermittently he would hit her. She would try and scurry away and crouch down to get out of his path and he would yell some more and hover to strike. I instinctually picked up my pace, ran toward them and started shouting at the man to stop.
Now I realize that this is always a tenuous situation in any country and there are countless documented instances in the US alone, where people will not step in and help. My general rule is that public disputes among strangers are not my business to sort out unless I am asked to help, but if violence is apparent I think its my responsibility to mediate. The questions I ask myself are: Does it look relatively safe for me to intervene? Does the guy have a weapon of any sort, is he drunk, or is his size or demeanor menacing to a degree where I think he may turn on me? How will I feel about myself, or about the cost for the woman physically and the man emotionally if I don’t do anything? This last question is really the most important one in my book. Because despite the harm that may come to me, there would be a lingering remorse with not having tried to help another in need.
One never knows the definitive answers and so we are always making a gut call. But I can bank on knowing that my voice, stature and attitude are socially impactful and can be imposing when I decide so. My brothers nickname for me in this is—The Shark. But I think all have the opportunity to have much more of a strong impact on our own world than we imagine. Not to be an ass hole, but to decide you are an assertive figure in a time of need and then generate the attitude behind that decision. People will most likely not mess with you. Maybe. This isn’t so much about physical stature, but more so how you exude your energy. How much you believe in what you are up to.
As I got closer I noted he had no weapon—so it was on. The energy I put out was to get him to stop but also to inquire about what was up. He responded to both, approached me and angrily explained that his wife was caught sleeping with another man and he was letting her know this wasn’t ok. He felt completely justified with his actions in this dilemma, and I realized I was dealing with a social challenge that was futile to argue with. So I opted to state that there was another more effective way to deal with this situation while trying to keep his attention on me, and then lingered to give the woman an opening to leave. She took it. Then I trotted off.
The incident didn’t affect me emotionally. It was just a matter of time before the humanness of Bhutan showed itself to me. Bhutan does not come close to having the quantity of these types of incidents, or other types of crime as we do, even per capita, but they are representative here as they are everywhere. This does not change my view of the people or the country, it just is a reminder that Bhutanese are human. And that being human is a difficult endeavor where ever we reside. The man hurting his wife felt like he was in an ego-ic bind, and didn’t have the social skills to sort out this issue with his wife in a civil manner. That doesn’t make his assessment correct or his behavior ok, it just means he is part of the ugly flaw of the global dilemma of being human.
If we do nothing to help when being exposed to a situation such as this, but instead sit back and criticize his behavior, are we perhaps just as flawed as he? Or, are we acting on our desire for self preservation—just like the guy who’s ego is tainted by his unfaithful wife? The hope can be that he realizes the problem and gets help around finding another way to check in with his marital struggles. There is always a more functional way to act—we just need to choose to seek it out. And not just the guy who beats his wife or the wife who goes out on her husband, but perhaps the bystander who opts out of making a difference. No matter where we are on the planet—we can opt to take action in our own small way, in our own little universe, struggling to uncover our inherent goodness if we are to keep whittling away at the ugly human condition.