My experience of living in a collectivistic culture during Covid-19
My experience in Thailand was marked by a few values shared by most of the population that I could see and feel everywhere. And high collectivism is definitely one of them. Collectivism is defined as a social psychology concept that emphasizes the group to the individual. According to the famous psychologist Geert Hofstede, collectivism is largely present in high-context cultures. This refers to most Asian countries. It isn’t only restricted to the fact that people look out for others, but it is a whole lifestyle.
Collectivism starts in the household
Here in Thailand collectivism is part of education. Collectivistic communities live altogether. Consequently, it is not uncommon to live with several generations under the same roof.
Thais are born with the idea of living with and for others. Thus, family is a huge priority. You do what you can to help as much as possible. Dedication plays a vital role in family values. However, this is not a dull task for Thais. They never see it as a chore. For them, it is self-explanatory. I would say that they have collectivism within themselves from the day they are born.
For Thais, it is common to live with their parents until they get married, or even until they get children. In addition, a mother-to-be often leaves her own house if she has one, to live back in her mother’s home during her pregnancy. Or she usually invites the future grandmothers to live with the new family. The values that they acquire in childhood lead Thais to apply collectivistic behaviour outside of their home too.
Collectivism in the daily life of Thais
Even if you are not from an Asian country, you will see collectivism everywhere in Thailand. It is as if the Thai population forms a big bubble, including all Thais, helping each other. In other countries, there are be multiple bubbles for different categories of people.
In Thailand, the poor and the rich live together. No one would look down on someone else. They show respect to their fellow human beings. Also, in Thailand, elderly people are highly respected. It is important to make them a priority even if they are not relatives. For example, not giving your seat to an elderly person in common transportation may be frowned upon.
Politeness is crucial in Thailand and so is getting along with people. Thais are a non-confrontational society; they avoid at all means to argue with people and to criticism them. This is part of the culture. Kindness and altruism towards others are very important to them, including towards foreigners.
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Collectivism in Thailand during the pandemic
During Covid times, we could see even more how people are caring for each other. In my country, for example, there were fines if people would not put their masks on. Some people would not wear their masks correctly or not at all. Moreover, they invented tons of excuses to justify themselves: “I cannot breathe with a mask”, “it gets too hot when wearing a mask”, “wearing a mask hurts”, etc. In Thailand, people are not even wearing it for themselves but to protect others. I never heard of fines for not wearing a mask in Thailand. Also, there is no need for it as everybody wears it correctly. The same holds for hand sanitiser or any barrier move that could help from spreading the virus. The population would not question it, complain about it or fight against it.
The government was also very reactive by imposing regulations as soon as there was a threat that more people could get infected. The government and citizens took the virus very seriously. And everyone was doing their best to limit the spread of the virus. Moreover, studies prove a correlation between whether a country is individualistic/collectivist and the number of Covid-19 cases. I observed that collectivistic countries handled the coronavirus better. For example, individualistic countries, such as the USA, are more focused on personal comfort instead of the population’s wellbeing. Whereas collectivist countries, such as Thailand, are not bothered by the discomfort. If it is for the wellbeing of the whole population, they do it without a blink. That is because they are naturally oriented towards others.
I recommend anyone not coming from a collectivist country to travel to one because it gives some faith in humanity. It is reassuring to know that some people aren’t just worried about themselves. If they could help someone they always would.
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