The Thai Character : Flexibility and Adjustment Orientation
4. Flexibility and Adjustment Orientation
Besides ego and smooth interpersonal relations values, the Thai are flexible and situation-oriented. This value in fact consistently scores high in the cognition of Thai people, regardless of different backgrounds and groups.
In general, for the Thai, there is nothing so serious as to be unbendable or unchangeable. This flexibility value orientation is somehow correlated with a laxness in principle, and consequently reflected in certain behavioral pattern like, "decision-shifting" and corruption.
4.1. Flexibility Over Principle and Ideology
This flexibility value in response to situations and opportunities, manifests itself as a core value regulating a number of conspicuous values and behavioral patterns. Because of this value, it is not surprising to find "decision-shifting" behavioral pattern quite common for the Thai, such as vote-switching, position-switching, or even switching of principles. Those who have observed political behaviors of the Thai Members of the Parliament (MPs) year after year, would understand why many MPs switched their votes at the crucial time, switching their positions, or even switching one's political party, for no reasons of ideology or principles.
Basic to these "switching" behaviors is always the personal conflict based on the "self", the "in-group", and the situation, that are the main motivating forces. It is always the "person" and the "situation" over principles and systems. Hundreds of political reports that appeared in the media can testify to this.
The same pattern moreover occurs in the formation of political parties. Their policies and ideologies can hardly be differentiated. Factions in the Thai political system are indeed not based on ideological or policy differences, rather they are based on personal conflicts and "in-group" interests.
4.2. Flexibility and Corruption
Since the Thai are not principle oriented, and with the high value for personal relationships, they also appear not to be strictly law-oriented. In practice, principles and laws are ever-adjustable to fit persons and situations. In other words, laws are rules laid out in papers; but what is wrong or right depends not on the rules, but instead on who the person is or whom the person knows. A prominent Thai businessman ironically described this phenomenon in a seminar:
We Thai are not a society of law; we are a society of relationship.... It is not what a person has done that's wrong; it's who he is.... If he is your cousin, or your friend, then what he has done is not wrong. But if another person does the same thing, and it's somebody you don't like, then what he has done is wrong...
This is the reason why law enforcement in Thailand hardly works. If it does, it is selectively enforced on those who are either nobody or do not know anybody, or who have no money to ease their wrong-doings or buy their way out of problems. As a society of relationship, it is easy and common for an officer, upon request from even friends of friends, to pull out, cross out or destroy a traffic citation issued. For the sake of a smooth relationship, officers would overlook, turn a blind eye, or keep silent. The point here is that, while the basic Thai value system should not be blamed as the major factor for corruption, it definitely does not help to inhibit corruption either.
In general, this characteristic "Flexibility and Adjustment" value orientation has perhaps accounted for varieties of behavioral patterns, ranging from the facilitation of ethnic assimilation process, to the tendency of being corruption prone. In addition, it provides a deeper understanding to the various existing interpretations of the Thai being "unpredictable", "non-committing", "irresponsible" or even "selfish" and "opportunistic", by foreigners.
Primary Source : Fr. Peter S. Niphon SDB, Hat Yai
Full unedited text (includes footnotes and references)
Secondary Source : S. KOMIN, Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns. Bangkok, Research Center, National Institute of Development Administration.