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The Pressure Cooker Syndrome


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In reference to the article called :

Road-rage bus driver lynched, stabbed
The Nation - Posted May 2, 2014

After reading and re-reading the article, the question that nags me is: what happened at the depot ? I can’t help but think that this has to be yet another case of an Asian person losing his screws and going on a killing rampage as a result of repeated frustration and humiliation in his work place. I have seen it happen again and again in Asia (not just Thailand), this ‘pressure-cooker syndrome’, where the violence of the explosion is directly proportional to the amount of accumulated pressure.

The wonderful ‘Land of Smiles’ where (say the travel brochures and Thais themselves) people are so polite, good-humored and soft spoken... the Land of Smiles has a dark side, and more often than not we see its scary face popping up, maiming and killing indiscriminately, especially in the context of driving (and politics).

Both aspects are real, very real, and as tightly linked as heads and tails.

Thai society may be mostly Buddhist but the social fabric is held together, for better and worse, by a Confucian set of values (as old as Buddhism itself) at the core of which lies the concept of ‘Harmony’. Anyone who is familiar with this country knows for example how difficult it is to have a Western-style ‘open hearted discussion’ with a Thai, because disagreement threatens his/her perception of (and craving for) Harmony. The conversation may start, but as soon as the ideas get even a trifle controversial, most Thais will laugh it off, abruptly (and comically sometimes) change the subject, say ‘mai pen rai’ or come up with some good old cliché like ‘oh well, there are many different ways of thinking’.

In the name of sacrosanct Harmony, Asians are conditioned from a very early age not to question the authority of parents, teachers, elders, hierarchical superiors. Of course they don’t always agree, because they are human, but they learn not to voice their disagreement. There are other ways to come around conflicts, and for one thing you won’t need to tell an Asian what ‘passive-aggressive’ is all about because they invented it! Using the mediation of a third party is another very common choice and it can work wonders. Sometimes the other ways don’t work though, and that’s where the ‘pressure-cooker syndrome’ comes in. The individual will just store his unsolved frustration/anger within himself and when this negative energy eventually accumulates to a very dangerous level, the explosion can, and will happen.

This kind of behavior may irritate Westerners, but avoiding conflict is a very respectable and interesting approach to the eternal question: ‘how do we humans live together and avoid carnage?’ I’m not saying it’s the best answer, but it’s one that seems to work as long as the level of frustration/humiliation remains within a reasonable scope.

Westerners brought up in a context where the key idea is now ‘don’t keep it in, talk it out’ are easily exasperated when they settle in Asia. They forget, however, that the ‘express yourself’ approach is relatively new, initiated by S. Freud around 1895 and reaching full bloom in the late 1960s. Until then our Western societies were extremely repressed, highly hierarchical and people who let out their individual feelings were in most cases considered foolish, rude and uneducated. We must also admit that the new trend has reached some utterly ridiculous levels in the West, where we are so intent on leaving nothing unsaid that we end up splitting hairs and giving absurd importance to insignificant events. It is particularly obvious in the corporate world where ‘meetings’ are held so often (in the name of sharing ideas, feelings, information etc.) that finding time to actually work in your working place becomes a challenge.

Whenever I try to brooch the topic with Thai friends, they inevitably invoke ‘cultural difference’... to which I no less inevitably reply that cultures/traditions can (and indeed must) be altered, and that the West did change a lot on this particular issue. They’re usually surprised to hear that, because most of them assume that the West has always been very outspoken and unbridled by etiquette. Of course I’m not telling them that they should ‘become like us’, perish the thought, because we all see the disastrous results of extreme individualism and blatant ‘self-affirmation’ which, interestingly, can lead to the same murderous results as self-repression.

What I’m saying is that somewhere in Utopia (where I’m planning to relocate as soon as I find out where it is), perhaps there is a kind of ‘middle way’ where the two models can merge into a social system where individuals are encouraged to voice disagreement, frustration, fear, and such ‘negative’ feelings without being frowned on, yet keeping in mind that asserting one’s individuality doesn’t make one become the center of the world, and that sacred Rights come along with no less sacred Duties.

Edited by Yann55
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