One of my classes each term is a Professional Seminar in which we study international organizations and visit applicable sites in each city. Bangkok’s selections were a discussion with a British Buddhist monk, and visits to Forum Asia, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and Greenpeace International’s Bangkok office. Each visit provided valuable insight into the operations of each organization.
The monk chat helped explain some of the day-to-day aspects of Buddhism in Thai culture, for example, the meaning of spirit houses all over the city. Buddhists are very tolerant of every religious practice, and take a “why not” attitude to extra shrines like the spirit houses. The monk shared an anecdote about Buddhist personal responsibility: two gymnasts performed throughout the countryside, one old and one young. The young man said to the older, “Our livelihood depends on our safety, so I will watch you, and you watch me. Together we can ensure we both stay safe.” The older man replied, “You are young, so you are not yet wise. We should each watch our own actions, and this way we both stay safe.” In other words, mind your business, your own morality, and your own spirituality. The Buddhist would say if each person in society aspires to morality, then society overall is more moral. The monk also traced the history of Buddhism from Gautama Buddha’s search and attainment of enlightenment in India and its spread throughout Asia. It’s been my personal experience that trying to overlay a Western concept of religion and world view to Eastern ideas is problematic: one often finds no direct one-to-one comparison for many things. So while meeting Thais and visiting their holy sites here, I have tried to understand the ideas and practices on their own. It’s been an intriguing experience.
Our visit to Forum Asia was fairly low-key, as expected. Non-governmental organizations tend to be less formal than international organizations like the United Nations. We were treated to a presentation on Forum Asia’s human rights work in Southeast Asia. The NGO is a collection of organizations who choose membership in the Forum, which provides a unique exposure and comradery in addressing urgent and ongoing human rights issues.
The ILO is a unique division within the United Nations as it predates the UN itself, having been formed after World War I to see to work-related issues throughout the world. The ILO also has a unique structure in that governments, employers and employees each have a place in the discussions. Most UN agencies are solely focused on governments and citizens, but the ILO feels strongly that employers should be part of the conversation.
Greenpeace is famous for getting conversations started. They call attention to environmental issues all over the world, and our visit there was consistent with this history. The complexity of their work and public relations campaigns was fascinating to delve into. It’s interesting to see how the rise of viral campaigns has changed their approach to raising issues to the world stage, and they are extremely savvy about using technology to draw attention to environmental issues of all kinds.
Title quote: Gary Hamel