On Thursday, October 13th, we decided to go on a field trip to Bangkok’s most notable landmark, The Grand Palace. As we wandered around the complex, we felt uneasy. There was an energy that felt a bit tense as we meandered shoulder to shoulder with hordes of tourists. It wasn’t until we heard anxious chatter getting louder and louder on the bus ride home that we knew something was amiss. As some fellow passengers started to cry, we looked around for answers.
The Death of a Great King
King Bhumibol Adulyadej was dead. He was the world’s longest-reigning monarch and we were just beginning to understand his importance as the news broke.
We had spent all day learning about his reign. Tour after tour described his contributions to agriculture and economics through thousands of Royal Development Projects. From bridge building to sustainable energy, King Rama IX, as he was also named, was tireless in his pursuit to serve the people of his kingdom.
From 1946, when he acceded to the throne, King Bhumibol reigned through more than 20 prime ministers, 17 military coups and 17 constitutions. Over the years, the king intervened in political crises, using his moral position of power to try to defuse potentially destabilizing situations, such as the nearby Vietnam War during the 1960s and ‘70s.
In 2006 the King was the recipient of the United Nations Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award, given to leaders who have exemplified dedication to human development and environmental sustainability.
Complexities of Leadership
Of course, as with any country and its leadership, there are complexities that I won’t even attempt to understand (such as Lèse majesté, the law making a blanket ban on speaking out against any members of the royal family). All I can share is what happened before our eyes.
We experienced a nation mourning their father. People sobbed in the streets, robed in black, with marigold chains draping portraits of their beloved leader. We watched as every channel on television broadcast the procession of the Kings body to the very Palace where, just the day before, we stood, having no idea of the historic moment upon us.
Young and old, rich and poor, farmers and bankers, all mourned their king. It was not that everyone agreed with everything he did, but they respected his careful judgment and his foresight and they trusted him. While he talked of diversity and celebrated it, he believed the Monarchs role was to be a symbol of what all Thai people have in common. He embodied unity. While he focused on regional solutions to unique needs, he spoke to the unifying characteristics of Thailand’s national identity and the goodness of the Thai people.
Be Careful to Choose a Dedicated Leader
As President Obama so eloquently stated, “If you’re walking down the right path, and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you will make progress.”
For 70 years, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was willing to keep walking, and because of his leadership there is a clear path of progress for Thailand to follow. What’s next is always the question at the end of an era, but something great leaders ask themselves every day.
Whether King, Queen, President, or Prime Minister, who among us is dedicated to what we have in common so that we all may progress together?
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