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Island View: Letting go off cultural baggage

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: When I learned that Thailand’s former Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-archa passed away last weekend, I began recalling events around the time Mr Banharn led his party to victory and enjoyed just over a year as prime minister from 1995 to 1996.

That was 20 years ago and things certainly have changed since then; for the country as well as my personal outlook on life. I was living in Bangkok as Mr Banharn’s premiership ended and the country plunged into the economic crisis of 1997, while at the same time trying its best to be taken seriously by other nations that were already experienced players in the international arena.

My own life was no doubt in turmoil at the time too, but it’s all a bit of a blur, now that our first child has already finished school and is doing her own thing in the big wide world.

The point is, whether you are talking about the country as a whole or one’s own path of personal development, issues that were humongous headaches in the past, usually fade into insignificance as the years go by. We chalk up those experiences as lessons in the school of life, hopefully a little better prepared to deal with the next unforeseen adventure.

Learning as we go is especially true for any of us living in another culture – if one is to weather the turbulent times – when we come face to face with the reality that not everyone thinks the same way as us.

“Culture is not your friend,” a wise man once said. It conditions us to expect individuals and entire nations to behave a particular way, and then all sorts of problems arise when things don’t go our way.

Our cultures are like baggage; and some of us are carrying around more than a family of four that has just arrived for a two-week holiday. Yet, we become so accustomed to the weight of our baggage, that we don’t even realize it’s weighing us down.

When faced with a situation that confounds us, it’s easy to start playing the blame game, because it has to be someone’s fault, right?

In the west, we boast of social systems that tirelessly toil to achieve such things as ‘equality’ in an unfair and very diverse world, where justice is meted out and we expect that, whatever is wrong, ‘someone will do something about it’ and the guilty party, whomever it may be, will be duly punished.

Whose fault is it when someone meets their demise falling down drunk or driving too fast?
Who should take the blame when someone refuses to listen to sound, local advice, or the water stops running or the power goes out?

Often it is impossible to point a finger of blame in a single direction. Sometimes it’s more a case of remembering that we are still holding on to our old cultural baggage.

The trick is, knowing when to let go.

— Nick Davies


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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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