Stephanie Crocetti, 128 TCCS
Shortly after our arrival to Thailand, all the volunteers were introduced to naam jai, a concept so deeply embedded in Thai culture that we became naturally acquainted with one another immediately. Naam jai, which translates to water heart, embodies the idea of selfless giving, an overflow of your heart to another without ever the expectation of receiving in return. This sign of love offering can take form in a basket of fruit that was anonymously placed on your front porch, it can be displayed through a ride to the market for a volunteer whose bicycle cannot quite make it that far, or you can be graced with naam jai during a brief, passing interaction when a traditional Thai snack is insistently placed in your bag.
Over the past few years, as I have been more intricately exploring myself and the relationships I share with others, I have spent a fair amount of time analyzing the five love languages: quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service & gift giving. Traditionally, in my book, quality time and physical touch ring in at a close tie for the number one spot. As a long-time hug advocate and snuggler extraordinaire, this experience of living in a physically conservative culture has challenged me to radiate my love to people in alternative ways. This does not always come easy.
Last month my days had unraveled to be exceptionally hard. I had been feeling disconnected and distant from my closest circle of support in the village. This triggered an unhealthy energetic tempo to my day for about three straight weeks. As I sat on my porch late one night, I realized that my relationships with these people are my everything. Bottom line was this situation needed to be remedied but I just couldn’t seem to make things right.
In my attempts to find an adhesive for these apparent gaps, I began to explore a variety of the love languages. I’ve found that here I cannot always affirm my feelings for another with words because of communication barriers. Quality time, which has worked wonderfully in the past, was not feeling organic in this moment and the value of it seemed to have maxed out due to interest discrepancies. My host grandparents are foot nomads from Burma, so yea, there’s a tad bit of disconnect when it comes to social banter. Physical touch…out of the question in every capacity. All that remained was acts of service and gift giving, the two that normally sit at the bottom of my love language list.
During our pre-service training, we learned about the “Platinum Rule”, a belief that contradicts our Golden Rule, “to treat others the way you want to be treated,” and challenges us to “treat others the way they want to be treated.” As I began to reflect on Thai’s beloved concept of naam jai I realized I have been on the receiving end of naam jai more times than I can even begin to count yet; the endless amount of gifted fresh fruit, rides in and out of the village, a helping hand with my broken printer. I was beginning to feel I had not been contributing my fair share to this cyclical form love. I began to wonder if perhaps this notion, this act of love, resonates with Thai people to a higher degree than it does with myself. I needed to let my biggest supporters know that I cared about them and the only way I was going to successfully achieve this was by speaking their love language.
It was time I peppered more naam jai into my relationships with others. The beautiful thing about naam jai is that it really is modest and nonjudgmental. Even a single apple or banana is registered as a lovely gesture and goes a long way with people. As I began to consciously incorporate naam jai into my routine, I noticed almost immediate improvements in my relationships. It most definitely wasn’t that people expected to be given gifts, I mean some of my naam jai gestures were literally a single piece of fruit, but it was a way for me to spread love to the people I care about in a way that would strongly register with them. I’ve even found that what I give out to people I receive ten fold. A bowl of fresh guacamole I made for one family lead to an invitation to join them for lunch at a river restaurant.
Today, as I ruminate on this experience thus far, it has never been more clear that the most important aspect of this journey is the people. In 20 years from now, the minor details of my primary project will be forgotten and the memories that will remain are the relationships created with my biggest supporters. In our difficult moments, it is essential that I deeply try and understand how to properly nourish and love the connections we share. I need to meet people where they need to be met, not based on my standards, but rather in the ways that mean most to them.