The Thai Character : Grateful Relationship Orientation
2. Grateful Relationship Orientation
For a culture in which relationship is also very important besides "ego", it is not surprising to find a number of relationship related values emerged and secure high ranking orders in the cognitive systems of the people. In general, the presentation of most Thai interactions are honest and sincere, and the Thai are bound for sincere and deep reciprocal relationships. And the deepest one is the psychologically invested Bunkhun relationship, as opposed to the "etiquettical" or "transactional" relationship. Bunkhun (indebted goodness) is a psychological bond between someone who, out of sheer kindness and sincerity, renders another person the needed helps and favors, and the latter's remembering of the goodness done and his ever-readiness to reciprocate the kindness. The Bunkhun relationship is thus based on the value of gratitude. Therefore, this value orientation is characterized by the highly valued Grateful quality in a person, and by the patterns of Bunkhun or grateful relationship.
Reciprocity of kindness, particularly the value of being Grateful is highly valued characteristic trait in Thai society. Unlike some other nations, especially in the West, the Thai have been socialized to value this Grateful (Katanyu) quality in a person.
A person should be grateful to persons who render Bunkhun (goodness, helps, favors, etc.) to him. By being Grateful, it implies two aspects:
Roo Bunkhun, which means to know, acknowledge, or constantly bear in heart the kindness done. Tob thaen bunkhun, which means to reciprocate the kindness whenever there are opportunities.
It is an exchange of relations that is not bound by time or distance. Although the person who renders help, kindness, and favors, is usually done without expectation of anything in return, the obligated person must be Grateful. And Bunkhun must be returned, often on a continuous basis and in a variety of ways, because Bunkhun should not and cannot be measured quantitatively in material terms. It is an ongoing, binding of good reciprocal feelings and lasting relationship.
Therefore, being Grateful to Bunkhun constitutes the root of any deep, meaningful relationship and friendship - be it grateful bond towards one's parents, or to a relative who supports one through school, or a teacher who provides one with knowledge, or a good friend who helps one out at times of troubles, etc.
Certainly, there are degrees of Bunkhun, depending largely on the subjective perception of the obligated person, the degree of need, the amount of help, and the degree of concern of the person who renders help. But what is important is the fact that the Thai are brought up to value this process of gratefulness - the process of reciprocity of goodness done, and the ever-readiness to reciprocate. Time and distance are not the factors to diminish the Bunkhun. It is an important base for Thai relationships.
While being Grateful is a dominant value underlying important relationships, there are variations found among different groups, which help to explain certain observable behavioral patterns. S. Komin reported that rural people value this characteristic trait significantly higher that the urban Bangkokians. In fact, the national rural sample ranked it the most important value of all, while the Bangkokians ranked it 4th. Moreover, inspection across occupational groups reveals that farmers ranked it top significant order, while government officials and students ranked it 4th and 5th respectively. This indeed explains the congenial, warm and sincere relationship and atmosphere one feels when entering the rural area.
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.