How the Thai concept of face is preventing a solution to the protests
The Thai concept of “face” is a very complex one that affects all aspects of their lives and culture, especially their decision making. Thais will always try to avoid embarrassment or losing face and do everything they can to raise their status or gain face.
Face is something which is abstract or physiological and can be likened to one’s reputation or perceived reputation. It is Chinese in origin but is an important part of the Asian culture. In Thai society there is a concerted effort to maintain a facade of wealth and perfection. A fancy phone, expensive jewellery and luxury cars are all examples of symbols that are used to gain face or status among their peers. If any flaw appears in that façade, the individual will quickly lose face or status. To a Thai who has lost face this is a very embarrassing situation and they have been known to resort to violence to try to gain some face back.
For anyone in a leadership role, this concept of face is doubly important as any loss of face can result in a loss of confidence in their leadership ability by their peers. For Prime Minister Vejjajiva and the leaders of the red movement, all decisions must be carefully analyzed to maximize the amount of face that they will gain while making sure they are not losing any face to their opponents. For a solution to be reached in the current political situation, not only do both sides have to appear to have won, but not have given anything to the other side in the process. The idea of a compromise is not one that is strong in the Thai culture. Once a private deal has been reached that allows both sides to claim victory, that agreement will be announced to the public. Until then we will continue to have this stalemate, the occasional violence and the silly games of changing shirt colours but in their strange and unique way this is how the Thais get things done.
I sat down with Mr. Sean Boonpracong who is the media spokesman for the UDD or the red shirt movement and asked him about the current stalemate and what both sides have to do to find a solution.
Photo: Jittagarn Kaewtinkoy