Main Page on Respect

Respect in Thailand and the World

Each April in Thailand, they celebrate their "Thai New Year" with a massive water fight on the streets. It is a lot of fun for most of the people in the country. People stand on the sidewalks and throw water on everyone passing by in a car or on a motorcycle. And people pack into pick-up trucks and return the water splashing.

Also, people in villages stand on the street and run out to block the road so they can enter busses and "paint the faces" of all the passengers on the bus. They do this by rubbing their faces with some kind of combination of water and powder. This is also enjoyed by most.

But there are a few people who don't wish to participate in the fun. They prefer to stay dry and clean. When I first experienced this celebration I was one of those who didn't want to have water thrown on me or have my face "painted" several times.

The first time our bus was stopped by a crowd blocking the road, I didn't actively protest. One reason I didn't protest was because it looked like it would not make any difference. Those entering the bus, about 3 or four people coming in from both the front and rear doors of the bus, were intent on painting everyone's face. The main reason I didn't protest, though, was fear that if I did, they would become more aggressive and throw even more water on me and possibly my backpack, damaging whatever was inside.

The second time the bus was stopped though, a few miles up the road, I slowly shook my head to say "no thank you." The boy, around 20 years old, hesitated when he saw I me shake my head, but then one of his friends, who had entered from the back of the bus, came from the behind me and quickly painted my face. Then the first one felt emboldened and added a little more "paint" to my face, and then painted my partner's face. I also knew that my partner would have preferred not to participate, but she is even less assertive or aggressive than I am.

The bus was stopped 4 times like this in our 2 hour ride, and several more times the driver avoided being stopped. My partner and I felt scared, nearly to the point of feeing terrorized for several hours as we walked to the bus, rode the bus -- which was stuck in traffic for the festivities as we neared our destination -- and walking from the bus to our hotel. We were afraid of our passports, laptops, cell phones, cameras and other electronic things getting soaked, for example. When we had a chance we tried to wrap everything up in plastic, but we still felt scared of being doused at any moment by a large bucket of water.

Even though it was "only," emotionally it was a very frightening experience because we felt so powerless, surrounded, vulnerable and out of control.

The experience caused me to think a lot about respect and moral autonomy or individual judgment versus "permission" from authority.

On this day, the people of Thailand, including the police, give "permission" for these activities. Even the police themselves sometimes are targets of buckets of water and face painting. I was told that a group of people will just go up to a police car and pull the police out to soak them and the police are simply over-powered and have no chance of resisting.

So what happens to respect for the individual on this day? If one person does not want to be soaked and painted, is it ok to do it anyhow because the majority is having a good time and sincerely believes it is harmless fun? Or does it make it "ok" because the police allow it on that day?

It worries me that people around the world are being raised to believe that whether something is ok or not depends only, or primarily on these two things:

1. Whether the majority of the people think it is ok

2. Whether some "authority" says it is ok

So this leads to two very specific questions:

1. What about respect for the individual?

2. What about using personal judgment?

My answer to these questions is respect. In other words, if someone, even just one person, does not want to have something done to them, then you respect their decision. You don't rely on some authority or some group or consensus to tell you if something is right or wrong or if you should or shouldn't do something. Each individual shows respect to each other individual.

I believe this is a much more healthy and sustainable way of living with one another in this world.

S. Hein
April 26, 2012
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand