Thai National Character

As we have passed through the social analysis of the Thai society in the previous chapters, we are now entering into a circle closer to the very person of the Thai people. This lengthy chapter will focus on the social cultural forces that influence Thai social behaviors to the extent that constitute persistent behavioral patterns, thus the personality of the Thai people.

Conceptually, value systems, as relatively stable structure of culture held by representative members of the culture, can reflect to quite some extent, the national character of that culture. The Thai value systems, derived from the empirical data from two national samples, as conducted by Suntaree Komin1, which show a remarkable overall consistency overtime and across groups, have provided some highly consistent and culturally meaningful data, indicating the cognitive dimension underlying the Thai social system. This, consequently, enables her to further identify the 9 value clusters, based on the relative correlations among values and through use of inter-subjectivity method from a number of scholars familiar with Thai culture and personality. The 9 value clusters according to the priority of importance, representing the dimensions whereby characteristics of individuals (group) and national character can be meaningfully described.

Characterizing a national culture, of course, does not mean that every person in the culture has all the characteristic dimensions arranged in the same order of importance. Therefore, in describing the Thai national characteristics, we are referring to the common characteristic elements within the Thai culture - the national norms, or group norms in case of describing particular group. This should be kept in mind when interpreting the 9 value clusters in the following section.

The grouping of the 9 value clusters for explaining the Thai national character is based more on the Instrumental values - the common means for the relatively varying goals, due to the nature as well as to its findings. By nature, Instrumental values, as modes of behaviors serving as means, instrumental to the attainment of the goals, reflected effective social interaction patterns of a culture. Logically, different cultures may have subtly socialized different means to attain goals. Therefore, the findings of Thai Instrumental values should be able to reveal the culturally learned patterns of social interactions, whereby Thai people learn to use them to survive and function effectively in Thai society. The awareness of this dimension, on the part of those responsible for the formation of Men and Women of God in this particular culture, will indeed contribute to a better accompaniment process.

Together with in-depth studies, research data render support to the overall picture that Thai social system is first and foremost a hierarchically structured society where individualism and interpersonal relationship are of utmost importance. And it is reflected in the following 9 value clusters on a continuum of psychological importance from high to low, as presented in Table 7.1. It should be borne in mind moreover that the higher the order, the closer to the self and more likely to be activated to guide actions.

Table 7.1 Value Clusters According to Their Relative Significant Positions in the Thai Cognitive System2

1 In the past few decades, there have been serious attempts to describe and analyze Thai behaviors and social systems, mostly conducted by foreign scholars in the fields of anthropology, sociology and political science. From the discipline of social and cross-cultural psychology, the Thai Fulbright Scholar, Suntaree Komin, has conducted a large scale research on the Thai value system, under the auspices of the National Research Council of Thailand (NRC) and National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA). Dr. Suntaree Komin is associate professor of social and cross-cultural psychology, former ISEAS Research Fellow in Singapore, and latest was selected for the Senior Fulbright Scholar Award to lecture in the United States. Her two large-scale national samples (1978 and 1981) of Thai people, representing different segments of Thai society, have yielded highly consistent and culturally meaningful data, consequently enabling her to identify the 9 value clusters - depicting the Thai national character in terms of value orientations. These value systems serve as the "collective mental programming" or "cognitive blueprints" for the understanding of Thai behavioral patterns in general, and organizational culture and work related to behaviors in particular. In late 1990, Suntaree Komin presented her report and analysis of Thai behaviors and social systems from the human value perspective in her masterpiece called Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns. It is her most significant work as the culmination of her professional interest and achievement. This is in fact the first systematic study of value systems ever conducted in Thailand. The following pages of this chapter are but the fruit of Suntaree Komin's over 10 years of empirical research in the area of value study. Cf S. KOMIN, Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns. Bangkok, Research Center, National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) 1990.

2 S. KOMIN, Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns. Bangkok, Research Center, National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) 1990, p. 133.