Thoughts On The Ways Of Farangs And Thais – Part1
I have been reading a lot of the reader submissions and Stickman’s weekly in the past month or so. I must say I have been entertained thoroughly and subsequently inspired to post my own submission.
What I wanted to discuss was some aspects of the Thai way of thinking and possible challenges.
I also wanted to briefly discuss the ways of the west and some of its consequences. My discussion requires much more detail to justify than I am able to deliver here, nonetheless, it may provoke interesting thinking. Allow me to build the discussion…
Now and increasingly so, Thai values, beliefs and lifestyles are as the rest of the world becoming challenged in the face of globalisation. The world at large is integrating and international relations are become more and more significant. Thai people must realise that they will need to understand farangs in order to successfully plug into the global marketplace. What this means for Thai people is that their ways of thinking are going to be increasingly challenged. What Thai people have to understand is that their way of thinking is crucial to how well they will be able compete, survive and prosper in the global market.
Thailand is proud of the fact that they have never been colonised throughout history. There are few societies that can claim so.
Sure, this fact may be a source of national pride, but the question is, does this fact serve them well as a developing society???
Allow me to offer value to the issue at hand…
Throughout history, most societies have been conquered and influenced by different cultures/races, and have left their mark on those societies that survived, and continued on. Without going into encyclopaedic explanations and recounting the evidence…It is commonly accepted that the infiltration of different cultures develop a robustness and character in the lands they occur, in very valuable ways. Each culture leaves behind ideas, philosophies and valuable technologies that build the character and evolution of the people left behind. Over time the people evolve increasingly more robust ways of thinking and living, by adopting what works best and disregarding that which doesn’t work well. ‘Two minds are better than one” is a wise saying which reveals the significance of the argument… As stated, Thailand has not been conquered and subsequently influenced as many societies have. A prime counter example is American society, whose central constitution is built on the welcoming of immigrants, ideas, enterprise, opportunity, freedoms and of course democracy.
Another value which tied to this influence of cultural infiltration is tolerance. While many would justifiably say that racism and intolerance still exists in western societies. Let’s not deny this… the fact is there is generally more tolerance and assimilation of cultures in those multicultural societies. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that many western tourists have been exposed to other cultures, and feel comfortable enough to explore foreign lands. I personally grew up alongside countless other cultures and have become comfortable living next door to them. Sure, people of differing backgrounds may not agree on certain views, but the critical glue that brings all together in many western societies is the goal of working together and contributing to the democratic, capitalistic economic ideals. While there is economy strength and stability, allowing most to prosper, there seems to be enough tolerance for differences. Further, prosperity of minor groups allows them to celebrate and continue their traditions within the western borders. In fact this expression is encouraged as it contributes to individual, social, and economic wealth and stability, as long as there’s no infringement upon civil democratic rights. The result of all this has been that westerners are more likely of tolerance towards other cultures, due to the common focus on democratic and capitalistic ideals.
Now, people in Thailand have not had the cultural infiltration like that of the west. Sure, other cultures have assimilated within Thai borders, including people particularly of Indian and Chinese background (Not to mention the other minority groups). However, they have not had the same degree of influence upon their society as many western societies have. Thais critically understand that tourism brings vital capital to their economy and creates a robust industry for its people to benefit. Therefore, I believe they tolerate us farangs because we can be of economic benefit to them. I believe if it wasn’t for tourism then farangs in Thailand wouldn’t be as tolerated as they currently are. Thai people haven’t had to live alongside different cultures to the same degree, and build the same level of tolerance and trust with farangs. Apparently, they don’t see us friend as much as a source of capital benefit, especially amongst the poorer Thais. Sure, this is a general statement, but I bet I would find ample from many expats living in the LOS. What do you think?
I also want to discuss the nature of the traditional Thai smile. Thais smile when they are happy and pleased as we farang do, but, Thais also smile when they are fearful, embarrassed, upset and essentially may smile as a form of avoidance behaviour. Indeed, a Thai smile serves Thais well! In contrast the western take on smiling is to demonstrate when one is happy and pleased. That is it! When we are upset, we generally demonstrate it with a negative response and/or anger. We reason that it is better to show your feelings then to lie. Of course farangs do use deceptive/avoidance behaviour also, but not to the same extent as Thais. Now farangs need to understand about the Thais view… when they see farangs loose their cool it is deemed as loosing your self respect, uncivilised, displaying weakness in character and immaturity. You know what?! It’s fundamentally true!!! I really believe that Thais are justified in this regard. Self respect, acceptance, understanding and discipline are indeed displays of great mature character, and worthy to attain. However, having feelings of anger and not displaying them is not the same as having this great character. Further, harbouring such negative feelings and not communicating them at all, is unlikely to lead people to develop positive, trusting and mutually beneficial relationships either. Great relationships are based upon respectful, honest and calm communication and not in/direct avoidance or anger behaviour towards another. If one is not happy, one should have a constructive avenue to voice it to the other. Otherwise one cannot develop true friendship with another and obtain the happiness that close relationships bring. Now I’m not only talking about loving relationships, but also in building business and societal relationships.
The ‘smile’ is tied in with the issue to “face” or what we call pride… “Losing face” is akin to losing one’s pride. A significance of “face” comes as one is not allowed to criticise or challenge another person (especially in public) even if they have a more valuable and differing understanding of a matter. I see this presenting a huge challenge especially for Thai businesses. Allow me to explain…
It’s understood that Thai culture adopts a top-down model of hierarchy, where the leader initiates action and employees below carry out those orders. This way of thinking in general was ubiquitous in the post WWII, “cold war era”, before the age of communist collapse. Typically during this era, huge corporations worked using a top-down perspective. It was viewed by the leaders of these organisations that they had power, control and the knowledge of how to optimally compete in the marketplace. The advent of technologies and capital interests catalysed the removal of economic walls and restrictions, which previously protected national businesses. It then lead to the emergence of the global marketplace as is today. This of course was regarded as beneficial by western governments which facilitated the process. This then exposed commercial organisations to the global marketplace and lead to challenges that corporate leaders could not cope with alone. Predictably they needed assistance via the channels in those the know, which of course meant the workers intimately dealing with the market. The workers at the bottom of the hierarchy now played a crucial role in the organisations’ success and worked in a greater decisive role. For waiting for the top to gather vital information and then initiate action now was much too cumbersome for commercial survival. This has driven more and more competitive businesses to adopt the current work culture of allowing workers to react and implement strategies efficiently according to the marketplace demands.
In today’s global business organisations, any inefficient means of communication can fatally cripple their competitive edge. How I see this affecting and challenging the Thai business should be obvious…Problems may arise when the agendas of individual workers do not align with the organisation. Sometimes outside issues disturb consensus and objectives for workers in the workplace. When workers do not work efficiently and when cannot freely offer solutions to management, then the organisation loses its globalised competitive edge. This leads to commercial suicide for such organisations nowadays! Efficient communication between workers and management; swapping vital information is crucial to becoming competitive in the commercial world today…Therefore, maintaining “face” may cripple the global competitiveness of Thai organisations. Would it not?!
Now I want to change the focus and discuss some issues concerning western society…
My intention is to illuminate its orientation and highlight a critical message. My hope is that Thailand in its efforts to globalise will understand its implications, and what possibly lies ahead if they blindly follow the western way.
Western societies have undeniably and greatly contributed the development of democratic rule and consumerism, consequently driving the global economy.
Now I do support the development of capitalism and standards of living on some level… but what is happening in the west today has evolved into something much more!
Savvy marketing has ‘brainwashed’ people’s minds into mass consumerism all in the name of a ‘healthy economy’; not a healthy society. In general, the highest priority of businesses is to first make a profit, while everything else is secondary in importance. I don’t need to expand on this point as one can write complete volumes on this issue! Regardless it’s common knowledge that self-interest profiteering organisations require government jurisdiction in order to protect citizens and avoid exploitation.
Ambitious enterprise in “First world” capitalistic sociétés has encouraged a magnitude of problems. Although many would discredit the notion of responsibility, the fact remains that “First world” consumerism has indirectly/directly contributed to the following;
(1) Destruction and pollution of our vital environment
(2) Depletion of our renewable and non-renewable resources
(3) Global warming and its consequences
(4) Diminishing social values and sense of community
(5) Increasingly demands of the workplace
(6) Increasing health problems and epidemics, such as obesity, caused by an unbalanced ‘affluent’ western lifestyle
That is just a taste of the apparent problems…These problems may not be solely the result of western practices, but, they are undeniably chiefly responsible.
The bottom line is that up yo this point, mass consumerism has created a society with the increasing hunger beyond the earths’ resource renewal capacity.
What’s more concerning is that much the developing world regard western ways attractive and necessary to attain a western ‘better’ standard of living.
It is becoming more and more a scientific fact that the western style of living is unsustainable and will lead to threats that can literally destroy all civilisations.
The supporters of the current western enterprise believe that solutions will be formulated and implemented to combat the current global crisis’. Regardless, what I believe they may fail to understand is the wisdom required to obtain such solutions, requires a fundamental shift from the current priority supporting mass consumerism.
The west can certainly learn something from the east.
What are your thoughts?