So my husband and I find ourselves on a China tour with 24 others, all strangers to us when the tour starts. This is a rare experience for us; we usually arrange our travel on our own and at most sign up for a day tour of a specific place. We thought, however, that China would be difficult to navigate without a tour, since we don’t know any Chinese. (In retrospect, I would say it’s a lot easier than we imagined.)  Tour participants range in age from 21 to probably 75 and come from all parts of the U.S. Many are couples, but there are also pairs of friends, a brother and sister traveling together, and two individuals traveling on their own.

Right away I notice behavior that I disapprove of. There is the couple who always pushes their way forward so that they get on the bus first and take the seats up front. There is the woman who continuously asks, “How much is that in American?” There are the two older gentlemen who use everything they see as proof of Chinese (or sometimes “Oriental”) inferiority. There is the couple who take literally two hours buying jade, so we all have to wait, but who seem utterly uninterested in any cultural artifacts. I can feel myself becoming exasperated and judgmental.

But after a day or so I think, We are all wherever we our on our spiritual journeys. I can’t know what people are struggling with. Maybe pushiness comes from people feeling that they are often overlooked and won’t get what they need unless they assert themselves. Maybe purchasing expensive items provides a sense of abundance or security to some people. Maybe abruptness is just a sign that all of us are a bit uncomfortable spending so much time with strangers.

I share these insights with my husband, and not only do they calm me down, but they do the same for him. We both slide into more relaxed and flexible states of mind. Waiting for people becomes an opportunity to develop patience–and to people watch. Quirkiness just demonstrates the range of human experience. I can’t say I always hang on to this perspective. One woman’s angry and noisy insistence that the U.S. government overburdened her with taxes to provide generous care for poor and disabled people alienates me, and I avoid sitting near her whenever possible. But overall, I am able to give people the benefit of the doubt and meet them with curiosity and patience instead of judgment.

When I find out that the man in the couple who always push to the front suffers from severe car sickness and grabs the front seat so he can manage this condition, I feel validated in my decision to presume positive intent. I’m grateful for this evidence that the kinder interpretation was also the accurate one.

Furthermore, I notice how much happier my husband and I are when we let go of judgment. That’s a valuable life lesson as well.

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