To fully understand Thai culture and the Thai way of life, one must always keep “harmony” at the forefront of your thoughts. From face-saving culture and the avoidance of conflicts to the flexible nature of Thai time and art of being “greng jai,” the preservation of harmony is a driving force that shapes behavior in Thailand.
The word “harmony” is sometimes translated as “săa-mák-kee” (สามัคคี) in Thai. However, that word is better translated as meaning unity. The Thai word most synonymous with harmony is “khwaam glom gleeyo” (ความกลมเกลียว), which means united in heart and mind. As King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great once said, “Khwaam săa-mák-kee măai tĕung khwaam glom gleeyo gan” (ความสามัคคี หมายถึง ความกลมเกลียวกัน): “Unity means being in harmony.”
To maintain a harmonious balance between one’s thoughts and emotions (heart and mind) is no easy task, but it is an ideal taught by Thailand’s schools, Buddhist temples, and Royal Institution alike. One could indeed argue that harmony of heart and mind is the highest virtue in Thailand.
This is why Thais view the “jai-rawn” (ใจร้อน), hot-hearted, person as out of whack as the “khrîat mâak” (เครียดมาก), very serious, person. One individual has let their emotions get the better of them, while the other has let their thoughts overwhelm them. In other words, they are not in harmony.
Looked at from the perspective of preserving harmony, we can view “saving face” in Thailand more correctly as “saving harmony,” and the desire not to inconvenience or criticize someone as the desire not to do anything that will throw off another person’s heart/mind equilibrium.
Of course, sometimes the behavior of Thai workers and Thai students needs to be corrected and improved. The talented boss or teacher in Thailand is the one who can motivate self-improvement while maintaining harmony. One trick is to always lead with a smile, and when possible, laughter.
Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. But few foreigners understand and utilize the power of the smile, as Thais do. There is an old saying, “Smile and the heart will follow”. The wisdom of this saying is that when you are feeling sad or aggravated, or when others are feeling annoyed with you, the best thing you can do is smile — because smiling is the best tool for restoring unity of heart and mind.