Like far too many cities across the globe, Bangkok appears to be falling apart at the seams. Once considered the most stable country in Southeast Asia, Thailand – “The Land of Smiles” – faces internal conflict that experts believe may lead to civil war.
Citizens of this constitutional monarchy profess reverence toward Thailand’s longest-serving head of state, but after 64 years in power and in fragile health, King Bhumibol Adulyadej no longer wields the influence he once did. And while military coups d’état are nothing new to Thailand, in 2008 the People’s Alliance for Democracy or “yellow shirts” took over the government, ousting then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and leaving civil unrest in its wake. Today’s dissent comes from a group of antigovernment “red shirt” protesters from northeast Thailand, who largely support Thaksin and seek to force the current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to resign.
Watching a city burn is never a pretty sight. During the 1992 Los Angeles riots, I stood on a mountaintop overlooking my own city in conflict. Smoke and sometimes open flames could be seen from miles away, while television news media graphically videotaped assault, vandalism, arson, looting, and even murder on familiar streets. My heart goes out to the inhabitants of Thailand for the uncertainty regarding the future of their country, for their fear for the well-being of loved ones, and for their dread that life may not return to normal.
One important lesson I learned from my own city is that those watching from the outside can pray and in this way play an important part in stabilizing the situation. The kind of prayer I’ve found most helpful doesn’t take sides but tries to better understand and feel that God’s disposition of events is always fair-minded, unwaveringly harmonious, and deeply gracious toward everyone concerned. This kind of prayer highlights new solutions for age-old conflicts and helps bring everyone into agreement.
While it appears that a whole nation is in conflict, friction basically starts with individuals – those who seek gain on the backs of others; who exert power over others and allow greed, rather than a desire to be of service, to motivate their actions. So, solutions also start with individuals and the recognition that every person is precious to God. That each of God’s children has a purpose and place to fulfill that’s uniquely his or her own, and that one divine Principle, God, governs its whole creation in perfect accord.
Virtually every religion throughout the world has found that humanity is best served by fulfilling the ethic of reciprocity, also known as the golden rule. Ninety-five percent of all Thais are Buddhists. The “Udana-Varga,” an early collection of sayings attributed to Buddha and his disciples, states this rule of conduct as “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (“Udana-Varga,” 5.18). With this simple rule as the code of conduct, solutions will surely follow.
My prayer for the Thai people begins with a merciful and just God who accords due dignity and grace toward all of His children, whether “red shirts” or “yellow shirts.” It acknowledges that everyone is capable of hearing God’s message of peace and selfless service toward humankind. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Monitor to ensure fairness toward everyone. She had been the target of the yellow journalism of her day, so she knew the value of fair treatment. She was motivated by Christ Jesus’ teachings, which are encapsulated in the first letter of John: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (I John 4:7, 8). In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she highlighted the strength of this teaching: “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, – whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed” (p. 340).
These simple truths are as applicable today in Bangkok as they were in 1992 on the streets of Los Angeles and even 2,000 years ago in the Middle East.