Wednesday, October 9, 2013

National bad habits that keep us "under-developed"

Somebody posted a message on Facebook the other day, suggesting that Thailand had lagged behind because of some “bad habits” that served to keep Thailand “underdeveloped.”

He listed 8 “Thai habits” that he considered to be the main obstacles to turning Thailand into a “developed country.”

On top of the list is the prevalent “patronage system” which dictates that junior people must always obey their elders. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you will always have to kowtow to the guy above you.

I raised this issue with a friend to find out whether he considered the “patronage” system a problem or not. He immediately shot back, saying that whoever had posted that message was either very na├»ve or utterly ignorant of the nature of Thai society.

“What he calls patronage system is in fact the traditional networking culture of Thai society. What’s wrong with that? Thailand wouldn’t have come so far without the close ties among family members, relatives, friends and, yes, patrons.”

He vehemently argued that what critics call “patronage” was in fact “mutual support” that had pulled Thailand out of one crisis after another.

I walked across the road to ask another man on the street. He didn’t wait for me to finish my question.

“Thai people are addicted to the patronage system. That’s the source of all our problems. Patronage means corruption. Patronage means inequality. Patronage means you can’t progress without good connections. Patronage means it’s not your ability that counts. It’s who you know, not how good you are. No doubt, we have been thrown into this mess.”

I was too scared to ask the third person I met. He might think I was trying to pull his leg. So, I asked him about the second “habit” that the Facebook post identified as a bad thing for national progress.

“Do you believe that Thai people have been lagging behind some other countries because of our fun-loving nature?” I asked the stranger.

He looked at me as if I had asked him why he had beaten up his wife. He stared at me, trying to make sure I was serious about the question.

Then, he said: “Fun? What fun are you talking about? Do we still have fun as a nation? Everybody is trying to hate everybody else. No, we are not a fun-loving people anymore. We are a nation of haters…”

I tried to put up a smile. But he refused to reciprocate. Before walking away, he looked me in the eyes once again and declared: “Are you trying to make me hate you?”

I didn’t manage to stop him long enough to tell him that I was only trying to find out why Thais weren’t being nice to one another anymore.

There were many other “bad habits” in the Facebook post but I was afraid to continue with my personal public opinion survey. I wasn’t ready to be hit on the head by people angry at being told the truth about their daily practices that contributed to national decline.

What if I told you that Thais are lazy, and afraid of changes, and that we are never punctual? What if someone tells you that Thailand could never hope to climb to the top if we continue to spend more than we can afford and that we tend to rely on others to do things for us instead of trying to work things out ourselves?

These “8 National Bad Habits” Facebook post hasn’t attracted much attention so far. But I hope someone will post another message to extol the “10 National Good Habits” that will drown out the “8 Bad Habits” – those good things we Thais do everyday that will one day make us a super-power.

Don’t ask me, though, what those “good habits” are. I am racking my brain to come up with the first few “good habits” we can really be proud of.