Living in a world without ‘do unto others’

I think it’s important that I preface this post with a note: I have made some observations while living abroad and they have highlighted some interesting cultural differences to me. I wanted to share this but want to clarify that it is about learning and some sadness but no bitterness.


One year of living in a foreign country does not make me expert, nor does it ensure that I can understand the full culture or build a profile of what a person of this country should or would be like. However after many interactions with people in a focused city area (Bangkok) I experienced a particular anomaly, previously unknown to me . I have watched and experienced a style of interaction that is “foreign” to me. And I would sum it up by saying, that “do unto others, as you would have them do to you” is not a familiar concept in Bangkok. Of course people will comment on the high level of expats living here and how that changes things, or how it’s a city and cities are not always a true representation of the general population. This may be true. I can only speak from my experiences and observations, which to make this point have been exclusively taken from interacting with locals in the city where I live.

As many people I know from home, I was raised to follow the simple rule “do unto others…” and in my travels to different parts of the world I have seen the same philosophy practiced. It is certainly not exclusively American or Christian.

Here, however, I have found the exception and I have battled through this experience trying to come to grips with what this means. What does this say about me, my culture, my experiences, my perceptions of the world, Bangkok, Thai people, right and wrong…etc??

I have concluded this: having considered the alternative, I think that living according to “do until others…” is right and in some ways is above and separate from cultural rules and norms. We, humans, have made it part of who we are and who we expect other people to be. It has become an almost unspoken international code of behaviour. When “bad” behaviour is challenged often people (even in Bangkok) will apologize, identifying to me that there is an underlying awareness of expected social behaviour and interactions. The difference here is that there is no forethought, no effort to avoid harm to others and little to no effort to understand another’s experience. This has been an incredible mental exercise for me –  to learn love someone (many someones) who may not consider me, may not treat me the way I want to be treated and thus how I will treat them.

Living in a place that does not openly abide by this rule has challenged my humanity and my belief that I deeply love humans, experience true empathy for others and have an internal drive to do good. However now coming out of the other side of this experience, I believe that I am still this person but now with a better understanding of what it means to care, empathize, love and serve without expectations and possibly without reciprocation.

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