What do experiencing unfamiliar cultures, and unusual behavior in one’s own area have in common?

You have a choice about how to react to behaviors that don’t make sense to you.

You can think the local women are silly (or worse) to wear heavy head gear and dark garb when they live in hot, humid Thailand.

You can think the local store clerk is dumb (or worse) when she gives you a non-sensical response to your question about an item.

If you don’t take a moment to think, “This behavior makes sense to this person. I’d like to find out their reasoning. It might then make sense to me.”

When the northern Thailand Akha hill tribe women dressed in their traditional clothing, it was to honor our group that has come to visit their daughters’ boarding school in Chaing Rai, Thailand. (Our group provides funds for running the school and scholarships.) They are proud of their traditions and share a tribal dance. Their daughters are delighted to see their mothers dance, and join in.

I ask the daughters about their mothers’ attire, and the girls practice their English while introducing me to their mothers and show me the intricacies of their dress. I learn I’m wrong in my assumption that they live in a hot climate, since they live in the hills. And they don’t wear their traditional dress every day, but only on special occasions like today.

That makes sense.

When I ask the store clerk about her answer to my question, I’m curious. “Help me understand…” is how I ask for more details. When she explains, what had seemed non-sensical initially now makes sense.

When noticing yourself being judgmental, strive to switch to, “That’s interesting. Let me find out more.” You may find the behavior that is outside your normal understanding begins to make sense. (You don’t have to agree with the behavior, but at least you’ll understand it’s origins better.) Try it — you may be delighted and better informed.