Sages say that human beings don’t really live in the realm of reality. We use our own filters to distort or delete or generalize it and thus live our own perceptions and interpretations of reality. At a much less meta-physical level, the same thing holds true in Bhutan. We live not just in our own reality, but often find ourselves stuck dealing with a reality others have made for us. Who we are, what we stand for, what we believe is selectively distorted or deleted or generalized by others in the eyes of people who matter in our lives, principally our bosses. In a small society where everybody literally knows everybody else, there is simply no getting away from it.
You could be frank, but seen as rude. You could be incorruptible, and seen as non-cooperative. Or you could be unprincipled and seen as a ‘flexible’ or a ‘team player’. This is often made possible through the untiring efforts of unseen players behind the scenes.
There is no single term to best describe the techniques so let me present every synonym I could find on the web:
whispering campaign, negative campaign, character assassination, innuendo, insinuation, sly suggestion, smear campaign, false accusation, aspersion, calumny, defamation, denigration, libel, malice, malicious statement, obloquy, slander, traducement, vilification, belittlement, deprecation, derogation, detraction, disparagement, put-down, ridicule, scorn, smearing, dirty politics, dirty pool, dragging one’s name through the mud, injury of reputation, personal attack, mudslinging, dirty politics, ad hominem, blackening, dirty tricks, hatchet job, muckraking, name-calling, blackwashing etc etc.
Most of us don’t have a vocabulary that includes even a fraction of these terms but it does not seem to matter as we certainly have the ability to put them into action. In developed economies, there is a way to get around this because an employer for example, is earnestly seeking the best and brightest, and they have ways of finding the truth about your abilities. So the efforts of the ‘identity distorters’ are to that extent nullified.
In Bhutan, we have never gone beyond a basic ‘evaluation’ form to find out someone’s worth. In filling the form the boss is usually not satisfied enough to mark ‘excellent’ but too kidu-oriented to mark ‘unsatisfactory’. The civil service’s ‘performance evaluation form’ is one prime example. It is no surprise to note that no one’s ever been fired from our civil service. Decision makers thus have no legitimate recourse to evaluate people other than through hearsay.
In the civil service therefore, dealing with perceptions of your identity is extremely vital. You need to proactively distort, delete and generalize the reality of yourself in the eyes of those who matter. It helps to have two faces. Maybe more.
But the problem is not just related to your career. Your standing in your own community is also affected by distortions made about you behind closed doors to people who innocently believe everything they are told. How does one correct aspersions about your character that you yourself never hear of? It is impossible. Therefore the winners are the ones who practice the art of negative distortion. Clearly in Bhutan, this is the way things work.
The upside of this seems to be that the reverse process also seems to work. Running a positive campaign for yourself through various methods of self-promotion is key. If you have third persons plugging you in during important meetings for appointments to vacant positions, even better.
I guess that’s why they say even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.