Thailand has its feet in two worlds.

One is the world of love, caring, and sharing—which is the natural social habitat of an intelligent, interdependent species. This is the sphere of oneness we are born into—that comes to the baby with breast milk. It is the state of togetherness, of unity, of the fellowship of life. All Life. The world where everything is unconsciously and wondrously connected.

The other is the divided world we are trained into, and are seduced to espouse. The world of separateness. Of selfishness. Of mirrors. The world that pits us against one another for the illusion of personal gain. The world that measures our worth by what we have—or think we have—and not by what we are or how much of ourselves we give. A world that builds a facade of self-worth on the hunger of others.

The contradictions between these two worlds are more glaring in Thailand, perhaps, than elsewhere because it was never colonized. It was able to keep elements of its preindustrial mystique more intact than could the lands overrun and reshaped by colonial powers. Thailand also had the benefit of a strong grounding in Buddhism, which, beneath its trappings, is founded on the interconnectedness of all things. Thailand still harbors elements of the old ethos of compassion, an ethos grounded in the realization that your happiness and my happiness are inseparable.

I suspect that it is this venerable ethos of oneness and compassion that has helped Thailand realize its exceptional advances toward universal health coverage. It was this spirit that energized the work of the generous volunteers and highly committed employees of Department of Health that I met. I was inspired by the willingness of so many professionals to listen and to relate to people, even in the most humble situations, including impoverished immigrants and members of groups that are too often denigrated and ostracized. It is this spirit of inclusion, even of the underdog, that I believe lies behind the healthy side of Thailand.

But at the same time Thailand—or at least much of its ruling class—has bought-into the Western “development” model, which pursues imbalanced and unsustainable economic growth-at-all-costs. The country’s constant power struggles and military coups reflect this … as does the incessant corruption at the highest levels … as does the failure of countless officials to obey the nation’s humanitarian laws (such as those guaranteeing free health services to indigent immigrants). Perhaps one of the most telling signs of Thailand’s having entrapped itself in the toxic World of the West is the growing polarization between the haves and have-nots, which contradicts its outstanding pursuit of Health for All, along with any surviving aspirations for democracy.

Be it in Thailand or the US, the fragile flower of democracy has little chance of viability where inequalities of wealth and power are so great.

For all that, Thailand has indeed made admirable strides towards health coverage for all. These strides—regardless of the ruling class’s intentions—are awakening and empowering the populace to strive for greater equality, inclusion, and sustainability across the board. Such are the seeds of change.

Herein, perhaps, lies hope for a healthier nation, and for a healthier, more durable world.