Time to oust outdated Thai traditions

Thailand is modernizing at an incredible pace. Social media and online interactions have deculturized younger generations of Thais from the traditional past causing far-reaching ramifications both politically and culturally.

Yet one can’t help but feel that this younger generation, so eager to break free from the shackles of yesteryear tradition, still feel weighed down by some age-old customs.  

What would it take to change some of these dated traditions that have been perpetuated through generations when it doesn’t hold any more weight with our children?

Let’s look at a few:

A society determined to save face 

In Thai culture, reputation is so fragile and precious, people will go to extreme lengths to protect it. Preserving one’s dignity is of utmost importance, conversely losing it would result in humiliation and questionable reputation. 

Drummed into young minds at a small age, we live in a society where one must preserve face at all costs.  Even challenging a lie could backfire in this society in the form of retribution either in kind or through physical violence. We live in a society built on a foundation of secrets.

It’s worth watching Britain’s Prime Minister’s Question Time in parliament on the BBC.

The challenging criticism from the opposition, jeers, and hackles, one can’t imagine a Thai society where there are no pretenses, no protection from losing face.

Try that in any board-room meeting here and the consequences are dire.  Faced with the digital world of online truths where western influence upholds the status quo of being “brutally honest”, the saving face thing looks rather ridiculous. 

It’s time to move on from this; lie less, pretend less, be principled and honorable, that should be the mantra for newer generations.

The burden of kreng-jai

The tradition of kreng-jai is a courtesy behaviour to accommodate the feelings of others. 

It is the essence of Thainess, a general desire not to upset others.

It may be a good rule to abide by, but it is outdated in today’s competitive, borderless society and needs updating.

When the pretense is to care about other’s feelings, it fosters a society of non-competition where struggles exist in rumors and backstabbing rather than in a contest of intelligence or ability.

It makes hard conversations and debate nearly impossible. It is okay to care and worry about how other’s feel, that is admirable. But it is important to do it in a way where truth and harsh realities aren’t avoided or confronted.

Time to end dowries

Sin-sod or the dowry is said to be deeply rooted in Thai culture. 

Two reasons that substantiate this tradition are honoring the bride’s parents and the belief that financial security is the foundation of a successful marriage. 

Let’s start first with honoring the bride’s parents for raising their daughter well. 

That should be an insult to any set of parents. Surely it is our desire to bring up good sons and daughters.   

To accept monetary value in exchange for a “good” daughter questions the morality of the dowry.  

Secondly, financial security does not determine a successful marriage.  Have we forgotten that the key component in marriage is love, respect, and honour.

Today’s equal education for both men and women have made it possible for women to be financially independent. So a modicum of respect should be upheld without the price tag.


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