His Majesty the King visited Japan on a state visit in November, 2011. While in Tokyo His Majesty was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Economics by Keio University, for the promotion of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
His Majesty the King’s speech at Keio University:
Members of the faculty,
I thank you for conferring this honour upon me and giving me this opportunity to speak to the students of this esteemed university.
My dear students,
I have been King, but for 5 years. I can only tell you my own thoughts and experiences and hope that you take away something from it.
In contemplating how to be a good King for Bhutan, I realized one thing very early on. This world we live in is forever changing – the speed and vastness of the change is astonishing. One decade is unrecognizable from the last. What we take for granted today, was not imagined yesterday.
Take for example – our mobile phones – don’t we all love our mobile phones? We use our phones to capture special moments in our lives, we text our friends and co-workers, it helps us to conduct our everyday business, we get to speak to our loved ones and receive emails at the same time. This ingenious technology has completely transformed the manner in which we communicate with each other, its contribution to democracy, enhancing cohesion in society, driving up our efficiency… all of which is truly invaluable. When I was growing up, the closest we got to imagine the existence of such technology let alone ever using one was watching science fiction movies such as Star Trek.
Can you imagine life without mobiles? It’s almost unimaginable. And yet in the near future something else will come to replace this way of life.
This is why I keep thinking about what our generation is going to do. How are we going to tread this world during our time? What kind of footprints are we going to leave as our generation leaves this world to our, yet unborn children?
I feel – in such a world, of great diversity and change – one thing is clear. The independence and detachment of an individual is growing. In a technologically advanced world, the need to build small, genuine, human relationships is no longer strong. A global village we may have become, but with islands of individuals. We have the tools for communication such as the mobile phone, but not natural and intimate human bonds.
The problems facing the world today – they challenge all of us equally. And the solutions to these challenges must come from a real sense of concern and care for others, for all sentient beings and, for future generations. We must care about what happens to this earth. That requires something more than leadership, science or technology – it requires Values. Even as I simply glance through the statistics that reflect the condition of the world today, however accurate the information may be, it’s not a pretty picture:
First, lets talk about the environment:
If you listen to these numbers, it is alarming how reckless we have been and continue to be. Something as fundamental as the environment – the Earth – has been forsaken for profit:
- Glaciers are melting, polar ice caps are thinning and coral reefs are dying. Climate change threatens the well being of all mankind. Today our consumption of renewable natural resources is 50% larger than nature’s capacity to regenerate. Every second, rainforests the size of a football field disappear Water problems affect half of humanity. It is quite clear now, that we will be handing to our children, a world which has been, in so many ways, made worse than when we inherited it.
Now, lets talk about poverty:
In a world that has seen unprecedented material growth – the richest countries and people are richer than ever before:
- The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for only 5 percent of global income while the richest 20 percent get 75%
- 24,000 children die each day due to poverty
- About half of humanity – 3 billion people live in cities – of which 1 billion are confined to slums.
The problems of poorer countries and people are often worsened by corruption – which impedes economic growth and prevents the nurturing of strong and fair political systems – both of which are key to increasing the opportunities for the poor to improve their lives. In developing countries, bribes alone total $20 to 40 billion a year – imagine what it could do for health, education and economic opportunities for the poor.
Even in advanced nations, corruption has taken root – it is simply far more refined and sophisticated. Poverty brings hardship, suffering and untold misery. We have to be mindful that with such disparities come disharmony, conflict and ultimately instability on a global scale.
What about health?
- 1 billion people lack access to proper health care
- 11 million children under the age of 5 die every year from malnutrition and preventable diseases
- 300 million suffer serious sickness due to malaria and 1 million die each year
- 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS
Then there is the global economy:
- The unpredictability and imperfect nature of legislations have caused instability and uncertainty in poorer countries affecting the already insecure livelihoods of their people
- Coupled with military spending the world’s future is even more unpredictable and dangerous. World military expenditure in 2009 was estimated at $1.5 trillion or about $225 for each person in the world
- The poor countries, most in need of resources are typically the ones with the weakest voice in how the global economy is shaped
Thus, we are only laying the groundwork for a world of inequality and resentment – of future conflict over resources and livelihoods – of continued strife, of terrorism and instability. The list of global problems goes on and on. And coupled with the rapid growth of the world’s population – from 2 billion in 1930 to 7 billion today and 8 billion by the time we are in our mid-forties – each problem will be multiplied and made worse year by year.
I could summarize everything and put it simply – “The greatness of science and inventions, of great philosophers, of enterprise and industry has brought the world immeasurable benefits. Today we live a life far removed from that of our forefathers. Yet we face new and greater global challenges. Growth that overlooks inequality, injustice, environmental degradation, unbridled consumption is ultimately unsustainable. And it will continue to throw in humanity’s way greater problems, until the day, we will not be able to repair the damage.”
So what do we do when faced with such great challenges?
The solution to global problems will not just materialize from politics, from great leaders or from science and technology. The solution will come from us living as citizens of our communities, our societies, our countries and above all as citizens of the world. As citizens of the world, our unifying force – our strength must also come from something that is not bound by nation, ethnicity or religion – but from fundamental human values. Values of Compassion, Integrity and Justice. They are as old as mankind and we must bring ourselves to appreciate them and return them to their due place in our lives, our societies and in our governments.
My utmost hope is that our generation – with this unity of aspirations and values as human beings – and equipped with this huge arsenal of science and technology and the lessons of history – will seek the solutions, so desperately needed. I hope we will realize that we are at the cusp of a fundamental change of thought – a social revolution that will change the way humanity will pursue growth. Our generation is called upon to rethink, to redefine the true purpose of growth. And in doing so, to find a growth that is truly sustainable.
The letter from the President states that the honorary doctorate is for my promotion of the philosophy of GNH. What is GNH? Well, it is nothing other than that approach to growth and development that I have just spoken of.
(My dear friends, let me repeat, our generation has to redefine the true purpose of growth. And since I know you are all students of economics I place on you the responsibility of finding this alternative growth path. You must approach this task with sincerity and great sense of responsibility but above all you must first be good and decent human beings).
In conclusion – I pray that you, my dear friends, will find wisdom, courage and determination to overcome challenges and grasp opportunities; to give you a moral compass towards honorable lives. I pray that at the end of it all, you will all be able to look back at extraordinary lives free of regret and full of satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. And that I will learn, year after year, with great pride, of all the good you have done as simple human beings.
Thank you, my dear friends, thank you!