Thailand Talks 2023: Fostering Dialogue for a Resilient Society
Thailand Talks, the annual flagship event organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Thailand office, represents a crucial initiative dedicated to bridging societal divides. This year, the event was held at The Great Room Park Silom. Vanessa Steinmetz, Head of FNF Thailand and Myanmar, set the tone with a remarkable opening address during this auspicious occasion. Her emphasis on breaking the echo chamber resonated deeply, highlighting the necessity of being receptive to questioning one's beliefs and cultivating a more profound understanding. Drawing inspiration from 'My Country Talks,' Thailand Talks aims to combat political polarisation by fostering open conversations. The third consecutive edition of this transformative event witnessed significant participation from a diverse array of media partners including; Today, VoiceTv, The Matter, The Reporters, The Active, ThaiPBS, The Standard, TellScore, Toolmorrow, MGR Online, 101, and T+
Among the attendees at Thailand Talks 2023 were individuals experiencing the event for the first time and those who had been consistent participants in all of Thailand Talk events. When queried about the motivation behind regular attendance, one participant shared his intrigue with the thought-provoking questions posed at these gatherings, noting that they have a transformative effect on broadening his perspective and guiding the search for common ground on crucial issues.
This year's event kicked off with a unique icebreaker, "Talk to Transform," collaboratively developed by FNF Thailand and their partner, KSN. The game facilitated open discussions on various pertinent issues, allowing participants to choose tables centred on key topics. Thought-provoking questions such as the legalisation of marijuana, the moral character of politicians, the significance of standing during the national anthem, welfare state, quotas for women in the parliament, transportation fares and taxation sparked engaging conversations.
This time, I immersed myself in the event not as an organizer but as an active participant, fully embracing its interactive components. I chose to participate in the discussion about whether politicians should be 'good' individual. Surprisingly, I found myself at a table where the majority leaned towards the belief that a politician's moral character was not a prerequisite. The structured format encouraged participants to express their viewpoints for two minutes, followed by active listening techniques such as repeating a statement, paraphrasing and guessing the other team’s feelings and values.
The ensuing discussions delved into complex questions, exploring concepts such as defining what constitutes a 'good' person, questioning the relevance of moral character in contemporary political systems, and assessing the benefits of ‘goodness’ in political leadership. Teams had the opportunity to propose alternative solutions related to the original issues, aiming to bring the 'heart' counter closer to the middle, emphasising understanding and empathy.
After a short break, the event transitioned to one-on-one pairings, strategically pre-selected to encourage discussions between individuals with differing perspectives. These intimate conversations allowed participants to explore personal experiences and feelings, fostering deeper understanding.
Insights from a Playcoach:
While engaging in the 'Talk to Transform' game, the facilitator, Khun Thanada Yoohanngoa, played a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth flow of discussions and empowering teams to express themselves openly. In a brief interview, Khun Thanada underscored her dedication to impartial facilitation, regardless of personal opinions.
She expressed her philosophy, stating, "I believe in non-violent communication. This does not imply you do not experience anger or other emotions; such feelings are normal. However, violence means causing harm to others. Acknowledging both your own feelings and those of others is the key to fostering understanding of different perspectives."
Insights from our Staffs and Volunteers
Khun Phakawanaporn Phisuthisuwan, a Ph.D. Lecturer at Kasetsart University, and Khun Somphop Krittayaworagul, Regional IT Manager for Asia Pacific, emphasized the role of media literacy in shaping opinions. They highlighted the need to appreciate differing perspectives and commended events like Thailand Talks for promoting dialogue and discussions.
Dr. Mary Dusadeeisariyakul, Project Manager for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, delivered an insightful closing remark, emphasizing the importance of respecting diverse opinions despite differing viewpoints. The event concluded on a hopeful note, echoing the sentiment that unity can coexist with diversity.
In essence, Thailand Talks 2023 transcended traditional event formats, offering a dynamic platform that not only identified societal challenges but actively engaged participants in meaningful conversations, fostering understanding and paving the way for a more united society.’
Sky Warisala Chatuchinda is the Communication Officer for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Regional Office.