When Young Thais question or give disagreeable opinions, the older generation can shut us down simply by saying, “ก้าวร้าว” (gao-rao; being rude, aggressive or offensive).
“In Thailand, students are expected to be just students,” said Sirin “Fleur” Mungcharoen, 21 years old, a student at Chulalongkorn University.
“They think we should wait until after we graduate, get a job and become ‘real adults’; only then we can talk about politics. Many people forget, or choose to ignore that students are Thai citizens as well. And as citizens, we have the same rights as everyone else to speak up about politics. As an activist, I have been called ‘เด็กก้าวร้าว’ [offensive child] and ‘เด็กหัวรุนแรง’ [aggressive child], just because I am young and want to express my opinions. All citizens should have the same rights to express their opinions.”
When the older generation accuses young people of being gao-rao, it means we are stepping over cultural boundaries. We are going against the norms of what’s appropriate and accepted. We are being disrespectful and ill-mannered. We should recognize our place as someone young and “inexperienced”.
“It’s in our social belief that young people should just go along with what the elders say,” said Winyu “John” Wongsurawat, 34 years old, SpokeDark TV executive director.
“It’s not fair to call the young generation gao-rao. Young people are starting to see that what the elders are trying to pass on to them, might not be the best answer to their future. That’s why we see them starting to voice their opinions. And it’s their rights to do so, because it’s their future. I think gao-rao is just a way for conservative elders, and those in power, to dismiss young people as childish and unreasonable.”
Tripop “Porpor” Leelasestaporn, 25 years old, a master’s degree student at Thammasat University and an English literature tutor, had this to say.
“For a country steeped in every form of hierarchy possible, I think it is easier for the elders to dismiss young people as gao-rao. For someone like me who rants on a regular basis, I think being vocal about our problems should never be considered as ‘aggressive’. True, there is emotion involved, but I see this as a participatory force that shows how passionate young people are in engaging with the current issues.”
But not everyone in the older generation agrees. Kaewmala is a social commentator, this is what she had to say. .
“It’s not that the youth are necessarily gao-rao. What adults call gao-rao is the political expression of Thailand’s digital generation. It’s less about politeness, but more of a subversive act of challenging the established hierarchy. Younger Thais are expected to submit to their seniors, especially those higher up in the hierarchy, even if they disagree with them. Hence, an open and direct questioning or challenge is seen as aggression by traditionalist adults.”