The Second Annual Conference on Gross National Happiness The Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness
Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing
St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
June 20 to June 24, 2005

June 21, 8:30 am
The View of Gross National Happiness: Integrating the 4 pillars

Overview of conference structure and purpose
Richard Reoch This morning I want to go back very briefly to the central theme of rethinking development and ask why we need to rethink. Yesterday as I was walking into this building I was intercepted by a film crew from one of Canada’s two national television channels. They were desperately looking for someone to interview, someone who could tell them what this conference was all about.

This was the journalist’s question: “So, is it just that we’ve got too much stuff?” I’m not sure whether I came up with the right sound bite but I tried to explain, ‘It’s not really about too much stuff but rather about a fundamental attitude towards how we live. How we live inside ourselves, how we live with each other, and how we live in harmony with the planet.’

So it was not accidental when yesterday, during our opening ceremonies, there was at least as much emphasis on society, on tradition, on culture, and on the life of the mind and the heart, as on any statistics or systems of measurement. That is the spirit that I think many people who have been involved in the planning of this wonderful gathering want to ensure.

I’m sure that Reverend Bliss Browne, when she speaks, will help share with us the idea of how we can work together on this. Because one of the assumptions under which we are acting over these few days is that we are not trying simply to produce a series of presentations. In fact, we have so many distinguished presenters, that we would need to be here for at least two or three weeks to enable everyone to be heard, were they able to speak as fully as they might. But rather the idea is to gather all this brilliance, all this experience, and see if we can interact across areas of understanding, across areas of expertise, across areas of experience and campaigning. Rather than delivering long discourses, perhaps, to really express from our hearts the pith of what each person, through their life experience, has gathered and is able to offer. And so the spirit would be that we try to cross our sectors, cross our disciplines—and engage each other very much at the level of the heart, rather than this being merely an exchange of data and papers.

We are going to see if we can have a balance between listening to presentations, talking to each other, and working with each other. There might be three ways of thinking of a common thread: First of all, what are the lessons to be learned? Moreover—and I want to stress this point once again—not just the lessons of our individual expertise. For example, if you are an agronomist or an ecologist, you may assume that we want you to go to the section on the environment, where we naturally would think the world’s most radical farmers would go. But this is an opportunity to take the experience from that lifetime of energy and think of what the lessons are that apply to good governance, or the lessons that apply to social or cultural promotion. And we are going to work with a team of people to try to create that synthesis over the days that we are together.

Thirdly and finally, one can think of that journalist asking the question, “Is this just about too much stuff?” It would be fantastic if, perhaps in a few years, this gathering could be looked back on as a turning point where the ideas and experience that we share—which are now regarded perhaps as a curiosity; as an alternative; as a new way of thinking—have actually made their way into the mainstream, into the corridors of power, into the decision-making of corporations and governments. Because, in our hearts, I think we all feel a sense of urgency, and know it is time for that shift to occur. And perhaps this conference—if we managed to do it in our own distinctive way—could be the tipping point, moving this way of being together, and of living with our planet, over into the mainstream. What we have all witnessed and lived through will be part of the memory of humanity in our planet.

Having shared with you that sense of how we would like to work, I want to ask Bliss to help us with how we are going to do it.
Rev. Bliss Browne Good morning. My task is really to invoke a kind of spirit of the conference—something that Richard has already done so eloquently that I’m not sure that any more really needs to be said.

If you look at the Conference-at-a-Glance program, you will see that there is a rhythm to this conference. It moves between keynotes and plenaries—like last night, a dazzling set of vignettes about what is being lived in the world, by people who can’t help but inspire us and stretch our imaginations. There are some presenters that the conference committee felt everyone needed to hear, because it is so inspiring to do so; and we certainly had that experience last night. There is also, in each of us, the desire to get our hands dirty and to get behind the scenes and say, “How does this work? How do I actually do this?” Or, “What happened when you bumped into this particular wall?”

So there are also times set aside for working groups. You’ll discover, when you look closely at the program, that those working groups also have many, many, many names attached to them. So if you look at the conference as a whole and see how many people you will have listened to by the end of this time, you may already be feeling a kind of anticipatory indigestion. Something like, “Is it really possible? Maybe everyone else can listen to three days in a row of everyone talking but I know I don’t have the capacity to do that.”

I also suspect that those of us who work primarily in the field of development are used to very, very interactive ways of working, because that is the nature of community. And it is especially hard for those of us who are restless, active spirits to listen to other people for hours and hours at a time. So this is an invitation to think of this conference not as a program where someone is taking attendance—however dazzling the offerings are—but really as a mini-society, where all of the elements that are needed to truly inspire your own work and expand your sense of what is possible are present in very concentrated measure.

In that sense it is very much like a university. You get the university catalogue going into first year, you burst into tears, and you say to your parents, “How can I possibly decide on four courses when they have three million?” You worry, “What if I make the wrong decision? My life is over!” Because in a university the hardest task is deciding on a path, when there are so many paths available. You will all suffer intensely from that in the next three days.

So consider that the invitation is to open space in our hearts and minds, rather than to overwhelm us, which is not sustainable development. And also remember that we are in a beautiful place; because, in my experience of conferences, what you come away with in the end is some ideas that have really captured your imagination; a set of relationships that has deeply encouraged your own work in the world and your sense that the world can work together; and the informal conversations that sometimes happen in the ladies room, or over lunch, or outside. And at the same time you remember the sun on your back, and how beautiful it was to look out from over the hill.

We want you to know that the intention here is for you to take whatever open space and find whatever rhythm is necessary for you to leave here feeling renewed and invigorated and inspired, and ready to work back in the field. If you get to the point where you cannot exist without a moment of sunshine, and the big thing going on is inside a dark room, feel free to go outside and take a walk. No one is going to glare at you or wonder if you are goofing off or anything.

If we can engage with this as the society we want to live in, and if each of us can take just enough and then behind the scenes share with the spirit of real enthusiasm what we have learned in order to keep everyone invigorated throughout the conference, then we will come away saying, “This is sustainable.”

You can’t have too much of a good thing. We want there to have been such an intensity of really lived imagination, of integrity, of moving towards sustainability, that anywhere you could have gone at any point would have kept you and set you on an even deeper path towards what you want to do.

So think of it as a learning community and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by it. The program organizers here have really created a culture of blessing for us for the next three days. If we can bring our own inside space to that—as indeed the meditations are also inviting us to do—and hold that space and an open heart and an open mind, then I’m sure that by the time we leave here we will have learned how to move it to action.

You might also, as you go along, keep a little journal where you can say: “This is something that really got my attention and inspired me today. This is something I would like to act on, and think more about.” So that by the time we get to Thursday, there is something—one thing, many things—of which you can say, “This has really moved my heart and mind in a way that I can now take back out into the world.” That is the invitation, and we look forward to the dialogue. Thank you.
Richard Reoch At this point we are going to have the opportunity to hear from His Excellency Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley. I’m delighted to welcome him.

Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley is the Honourable Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs of the government of Bhutan and the former Prime Minister of Bhutan. He is also the President of the Council of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which was the epicentre for planning last year’s conference in Thimphu, and a key partner in manifesting our international dimension for this year.

His Excellency is going to speak on pursuing Gross National Happiness. On behalf of all of us, it gives me great pleasure to ask His Excellency Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley to address us.
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