Stickman Readers' Submissions July 18th, 2007

Understanding Explosive Thai Behaviour

I have read a number of submissions discussing issues surrounding the explosive and/or violent behaviour displayed at times by Thai girls and Thai people in general. There also seemed to be some pleas to explain the reasons for such behaviour. Well allow me to attempt to illuminate the reasons underlying this behaviour.

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Just to mention, I too have travelled many times in the Land of Smiles as many Stickman readers have. Predictably, I have had a number of Thai girlfriends in the past, and am now in a serious relationship with a Thai lady for one and a half years. So yes, I have had experience with Thai people, witnessed first-hand their attitudes and behaviour in various situations. Also, I have a keen interest in psychology and health matters in general and subsequently, became a health care professional.

Now, there has been some insightful discussion about Thai behaviour. A submission by Bangkok Barry on the 19/4/07 titled ‘
Facing Facts’ discussed the concept of ‘face’ and the issues affected by it. He did a great job of bringing to light the general concept, and I urge readers to read this submission. I don’t want to reiterate what he said, but would like to support and build upon those ideas. In all honesty, to fully cover the subject and satisfactorily support the notions I present, would necessitate volumes of theses. I won’t be so ambitious to attempt this, so please keep this in mind…

Explosive behaviour occurs when inhibited internal beliefs and emotional energy are finally expressed in an uncontrolled fit of rage. In essence, remaining passive equates to deceiving one’s true intentions and feelings. At times withholding true thoughts this may be wise and appropriate. But as a general habit, it is not a healthy practice, especially in close intimate relationships. In fact a common view among farang living in Thailand is that it is difficult to develop close personal relationships with Thai people. Further, I have heard the same expressed by some Thai also. People don’t seem to develop close relationships to the same degree as western people do, at least not outside the immediate family. This phenomenon ties in with the hierarchal mindset, which seemingly discourages social equality required for individuals to safely disclose their intimate thoughts to each another. This mindset compels individuals to feel obligated to relate to others as either superiors or subordinate. This orientation resembles the formal old style western management relations. The superior (boss) usually remains composed and withhold their personal thoughts, showing no weakness, while the subordinate respects, trusts and obeys the wishes of their superior. This form of relating is not really mutually empowering and of course not an efficient form of communication. I will later return to this point and further the discussion, after expanding on the importance of communication in this offering.

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The ability to communicate well is a requirement for expressing yourself effectively. Without effective communication skills, one cannot hope to express themselves well and maintain close and fulfilling relationships, especially in light of the stress experienced due to cultural and language differences.

So what are effective communication skills?

Well let’s first define what is not effective… Passive communication corresponds to not expressing one’s needs and wants at all, but allowing others complete expression. The opposite of passive is aggressive communication, which corresponds to forceful expression of one's needs and wants at the expense the other people needs. Neither form of communication will promote respect for each other’s needs simultaneously. Now the most effective way of delivering one’s ideas and feelings is through assertive communication. Being assertive facilitates mutual respect and grants the greatest potential to fulfil one’s needs. The idea is to obtain a win-win result between the communicator and the listener, so both needs are met.

By now you may have already worked out that many Thai girls typically utilise a passive style of communicating. They typically do not express their desires and superficially on the surface accept whatever you choose. The ever famous answer, ‘Up to you’, conveys my point. Then after some period of time, they may suddenly explode with anger at something they may not have liked, but did not express beforehand. Passivity may eventually build up emotional frustration and spark aggressive behaviour; just as aggressive behaviour can force passivity in others. So the reality is that passivity and aggressiveness go hand in hand. A person who demonstrates passive behaviour will under other circumstances become aggressive and vice versa. This general way of behaving is called passive aggressive (PA) behaviour.

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Passive aggressive behaviour is at the root of incompetent communication skills! Nobody can know what another is thinking without some communication. I believe the reasons behind Thai passivity lie in within its culture. The concepts of face and hierarchy within Thai society I believe facilitate passive and aggressive behaviour. The Thai system relegates all individuals in a hierarchy of relative superiority or subordination, that is, an extensive class system. Therefore in every personal encounter, there is a prevalent superior, and the subordinate must not openly oppose the opinion of the superior. In the case of women, they are generally subordinate to men, and thus adopt a passive disposition with men, including farang men. Many will reason that respect to elders and superiors is a decent and moral obligation. There is no argument that upholding respect towards others is indeed reasonable, but it is crucial that objective arguments are not confused with personal challenges to perceived superiors. We need to focus respect on societal morals, ethics and sensitivities that respect all individuals, and not preserve personal egos. All citizens should be accountable for their behaviour and not adopt an undisputed dictatorship over other individuals. If history has taught us anything, dictatorships ultimately succumb to power abuse and lead to oppressive impoverished subordinates.

So what can be done to eliminate passive aggressive behaviour from a personal level? The difficulty lies in passive aggressive individuals firstly becoming aware, accepting, and then altering of their thinking and behavioural patterns, towards assertiveness. Underlying this behaviour are issues of personal values and self-esteem, which need to be challenged concurrently.

My apologies for not expending more on the matter it you were interested. Regardless, developing individual self-esteem, responsibility through education, leadership and communication will bring about personal change.

The next part of my discussion will discuss the factors which support the PA tendencies. Certain cultural concepts namely ‘face’, and hierarchal structure are factors which support behaviour. Also, I will attempt to integrate underlying societal factors, notably education and societal wealth.

The concept of ‘face’ certainly has implications in how Thais act and communicate in personal, group interactions and the society at large. The concept of ‘face’ in Thai culture serves to maintain the people’s pride, that is, self-esteem and position within society. At the heart of ‘Face’ lies the motivation to spare the pride, that is self-esteem of the person dealt with. ‘Face’ works in tandem with the hierarchal system also adopted by the society. They work well together and ‘Face’ seemingly lubricates and supports the hierarchal system. Essentially in dealings with perceived superiors, truth may be spared so superiors are permitted to believe and act as desired. This potential sparing of truth is not only for the benefit of superiors, but also all individual interactions. It extends into the cultural practice of everyday personal and public life. Nobody seemingly wants to speak or act towards others that contradicts or exposes their competency and diminishes their pride, that is, self-esteem. Understandably, this perceived put down is especially and increasingly greater in the presence of a greater number of people. Pride and self-esteem are very real legitimates and positive aspects to being human. Maintaining a high self esteem is certainly desirable and worthy of developing. No argument there, but attaining a strong sense of self-esteem should be based not on delusion, but be cultivated through societal reason and consensus. That is, belief or truth should be accepted via the rigors of all reason capable by individuals within the society. One person's prosperous idea becomes the adopted means for societal beneficial progress. This is precisely how civilisations have evolved culturally.

Allow me to expand on the significance of belief and truth…

It is crucial to understand that belief and truth are fundamentally independent in nature. Further, what is believed is not always the truth. Further, it should not be assumed that knowledge is possessed and dictated by individuals. So when critical knowledge is known, it shouldn’t be publicly denied merely due to personal preservation of self-importance. It is simply arrogance to refute knowledge in light of apparent reason and undisputable truth. This is a question of personal self-esteem and not knowledge as intended. So at the root of this behaviour is to preserve self-esteem, which is developed starting from childhood.

Now, while growing up, we are taught to believe and act according to our caretakers and by the society at large. As we grow, we accept and adapt these beliefs according to what seems rewarding within the constraints of societal acceptability, and evolving cultural trends. Culture develops via our curious nature and discoveries, creating our knowledge base which continues to evolve indefinitely. I am not suggesting people should alter their belief system in a knee jerk reaction to outside forces. Culture should of course evolve for the benefit of humans and not for the mere benefit of technological or organisational entities (this particular issue is a real problem in western culture). So the point is, throughout our growing years we focus on mainly on learning to become a mature and competent adult as seen fit by the society. This acceptance of learning and accepting knowledge shouldn’t stop once we stop growing physically. Adapting knowledge, understanding and refocusing is a constant requirement throughout adulthood in order to succeed in the societal workplace.

Developing self esteem in the real world requires facing and learning from life’s daily challenges. These challenges are either easy or difficult to deal with. Easy challenges bring easy success, but the challenge provides no stimulus for personally growth, that is, character building. Difficult challenges may prove uncomfortable and lead to failure initially. However, the challenge can provide an opportunity to learn and develop character, etiquette, responsibility and maturity. Upon learning, an individual becomes more competent in dealing with the previously failed challenge. Nobody can dispute the necessity and benefit of gradually experiencing more difficult challenges throughout life. In fact, the hallmark of youth is associated with these challenges which painfully but crucially forge us into mature, competent and independent adults. The only issue as I will discuss is that different societies exercise and celebrate personal growth in differing degrees. Do not jump to black and white conclusions at this point. I will endeavour to relate all this back to farang and Thai culture below.

Now, western culture has evolved to prize at a greater degree the value of independence, justice and social equality. This movement can be traced back to the development of modern civilisations’ increasing affluence or wealth. However I will not attempt to substantiate this very notion, and so continue the point. The west has evolved a socio-economic orientation which supports and facilitates individual motivation, expression and financial independence. Essentially this has been achievable as a result of strong economic growth, particularly the past half century. A dominant focus in the west is to create personal wealth and rely less on other people, that is, independence. Pivotally, westerners are rewarded for their loyalty in developing economically prosperous ideas and not so much for loyalty to people. The onus is on developing capital markets through ideas and not just serving personal networks. This notion can be appreciated in the following comparison. Farangs when in business are more likely to reprimand and even fire co-working family members all in the name of success in business. In contrast, Thai people would hardly consider reprimanding and taking action against family co-workers. Their concern is on preserving the self-esteem of the person to the detriment of the success of the business. The underlying reasons behind this differing focus will be outlined below.

Perhaps the greatest underlying factor influencing the society to adopt PA form is general societal wealth and well-being. What I mean is the availability and distribution of wealth has direct impact on well-being, and eventually how people relate and communicate with one another. This may sound a little ambitious to suggest, but, read on consider the significance. So the ability to provide a satisfactory environment and distribute the needs of the society directly affects societal relations. Foremost the supply of resources such as food, water, and shelter must be available for majority. Conversely when resources are insufficient, it creates a competitive environment where networks of citizens compete against others in order to secure resources. This often leads to one group winning, obtaining much greater resources, power and wealth, while others lose and become impoverished. This development becomes more marked the greater the demand and less available the supply of resources there is for the society.

Additionally, a fair sense of social justice and equality through governance must be in place, in order for individuals to focus on contributing to their society and their well-being. The need for educating the society in contributing to the society is important in facilitating a structure of order, justice and economic consensus. In essence, economic strength and stability through creating markets, ensures that avenues for individuals to contribute and be rewarded are set in place. This in no way solves the supply and demand dilemma, but does put in place a civilised structure for individuals to focus on, obtain purpose, direction and earn their right to acquire resources. The tools for creating such an economy are undoubtedly through education. Education creates opportunities to contribute to the society and provide personal wealth. It is no coincidence that a general lack of education throughout the poorer regions leads to where much of the desperation and origins of PA tendencies.

As discussed, western culture had developed in light of increasing societal and personal wealth. Thai culture has not had the same development in terms of socio-economic growth and wealth. I merely suggest Thai people may not have been exposed to the same level of inter-cultural exchange and competition to develop a creative and information based economy as swiftly as western societies. I would argue that traditional practice and primary industries are far more important to societal health than modern technology. But that is another story…

To summarise…explosive behaviour in Thai people I believe is linked to passive aggressive behaviour and supported by elements of culture, particularly the hierarchal structure, concept of face, and also lack of education perpetuating the problem. But the origins of which can be linked to impoverished beginnings and a failure to establish governance facilitating justice for all. Solutions in reducing PA behaviour I believe can be achieved through two measures. On the personal level, issues of self esteem and values need to be addressed and assertive communication skills taught via education and leadership. On the societal level, government leadership is required to manufacture economic and social justice and equality, bringing opportunity and prosperity. This will promote the refocus of people from one-upmanship to contributing towards societal and personal well-being. All this will ultimately reduce the causes for utilising PA behaviour and explosive tendencies.

Important note;

Please allow to me state that I do not imply that Thai people are incompetent as I am sure this may provoke aggressive reactions accusing of such. The subject at hand only and specifically focuses on discussing my beliefs on why explosive behaviour exists in Thai people as evidenced by many farang. The very nature of passive aggressiveness is nurtured and not intrinsic to any genetic heritage. So the mechanisms and basic underlying issues are equally applicable to any person of any heritage…

Perhaps someone would like to comment or offer a differing opinion from mine. That’s fine…keeping an open mind and evaluating ideas based on intended objectivity and reason, is the very least, respectable.

Stickman's thoughts:

Passive aggressiveness is extremely difficult to deal with for many farangs. Not knowing quite where we stand or what the current status of a situation or issue is is troublesome.

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