Thailand has bid the final farewell to its leader of seven decades, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
People throughout the Kingdom, and around the world, have celebrated and commemorated his life in a variety of ways. Ceremonies that have been practised until perfect are helping convey the gravity of the moment, while helping the nation begin to move forward. But when the ceremonies end, people will look for ways to keep the late King’s memory alive, as well as to honour his life’s work. A great way to do so might be to commit to continue the Sufficiency Economy work that was initiated by His Majesty Rama IX.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej created the Sufficiency Economy as a path on which to guide Thai people in a rapidly changing world. It encourages citizens to live simply, to consume only what they really need, to choose the things they purchase carefully, and to understand the impacts their choices and acts have on others and the planet.
The goal of the philosophy is to “create a balanced and stable development, at all levels, from the individual, family and community to society at large”, and in doing so, to develop the ability to cope with the “critical challenges arising from extensive and rapid changes under globalisation in the material, social, environmental, and cultural conditions of the world”.
Government officials have long been encouraged to seek the middle path in dealing with the forces of globalisation, as they worked to modernise Thailand, while extreme thoughts, behaviours and actions were discouraged. These principles align well with the circular-economy work that I take part in, which aims to nudge society from our largely linear ways back to the sort of circular path in which ecosystems normally function.
The Sufficiency Economy has three main components: moderation, reasonableness, and self-immunity.
1. Moderation is the idea of avoiding extremes in our behaviour. As such, we should eat enough to maintain energy, but not so much that we gain weight, and we should also allow ourselves to have things we enjoy (like sweets), but not so much that it damages our health.
2. Reasonableness asks us to justify our decisions with clear thinking that relies on the appropriate legal principles, moral values and social norms. So, we should be able to back up our decisions with a logical argument that proves our position is legally allowed, that shows we’ve considered and accounted for the relevant morals, and that we’re in tune with the applicable social norms.
3. Self-immunity aims for resilience and asks us to take responsibility for preparing for the risks which could impact us in a dynamic world.
The three main components are also accompanied by the conditions of morality and knowledge. Their inclusion tells us that we need to consider what ought to be as we learn about the choices we make and the impacts those have. The end goal of this is the accumulation of wisdom – the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement – and its application via wise acts.
As economist Dr Prasopchoke Mongsawad noted, His Majesty’s Sufficiency Economy philosophy “highlights a balanced way of living”. As a zero-waste practitioner, and a university lecturer who teaches related ideas, I greatly appreciate the late King’s effort to initiate the sufficiency economy. The ideas align well with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have been created to help humanity collectively find its middle path, so that future generations might enjoy the same opportunity. And those looking for guidance on how to act in accordance with the Sufficiency Economy could learn a lot by digging into the growing body of knowledge around the SDGs.
As a lecturer at Thammasat University’s School of Global Studies, I have the honour of working with Thai students who embody the ideals of the Sufficiency Economy. Our programme, Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship, attracts students who wish to serve their communities, and drive positive change. We work to help them gain an understanding of the challenges we face from a “big-picture” perspective, and it provides them with tools to begin to meet those challenges head on. I’m looking forward to watching our first cohort graduate next summer, to see how they honour the late King’s work as they start their careers. For my part, I’m redoubling my efforts towards finding my own middle path, and I hope you’ll join me in working toward the same.
We can do much as individuals. We can do far more if we walk this path together.
Chris Oestereich is director of publications at Thammasat University’s School of Global Studies, where he teaches courses related to sustainability and social innovation. He formerly led zero-waste programmes in the US, and he’s the publisher of the Wicked Problems Collaborative, an independent press that focuses on humanity’s biggest challenges.