I had the occasion to be in a flight again back to Beirut this week, and this time, humor turned into anger. Being a person who prides myself on being able to keep my cool, this anger came as a surprise, since this was after all a seemingly mundane situation. However, it also gave me access to a more deeper understanding of my own discomfort and prejudices as foreigner in the Middle East.
I come from a country very similar to Lebanon, in the sense that without a very efficient public sector, the individual protects its private interest through a network of contacts, a tradition of bribery and an overall opportunism. However, I was educated in a French school my whole childhood, and then attended a Mexican university that follows an entirely American doctrine, to then do my post graduate studies in an university in the United States. It isn't then surprising that my overall "opinion" of the world, and how it "should" function is inevitably influenced by a western - or whatever you want to call it- mentality.
In this world vision, the concept of "order" is highly sought after, and following rules, being considerate to others, being polite, waiting, letting others pass first, etc. are behaviours that are expected and also praised.
I have trained myself as a master of consideration (despite my Mexican "gandallismo", or opportunism, that I have described before), so in airplanes, contained spaces, with restricted movement, with a gazillion of unspoken, unwritten rules, I have very little tolerance for any one not abiding by them and "misbehaving".
So it is not a surprise that I yelled at a person who cut me in line, was absolutely disgusted by the dirty seat I was seating on, and was looking with an overall disdain to my surroundings, at all "these" people who were not seating down, stuffing their bags on my face, letting kids throw food to other passengers (i.e. me), fighting with one another, shouting, drooping food on the floor, etc, etc, etc (and yes, clapping during landing).
I spent at least 2 hours looking for a "decent" soul to cross looks with, so I could commiserate with someone about my tragic situation, and feel a little less alone in this chaotic 5 hours flight. After the third hour however, I started noticing the tension in my neck, how tight I was holding my laptop case, and how, after the third try, I could just not focus on my highly important paper full of big, fancy, intelligent words.
But most of all, I noticed how separated and different I felt from the people around me. How much I was certain there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that I could have in common with "these' people. In shock, I started feeling ashamed (that is usually what I do, as a good Catholic girl). And then, I started connecting myself with reality and realizing how the "western" filter, the "things should be orderly" filter, the "I am better than them" filter was not allowing me to 1) enjoy the hilariousness of the whole situation, 2) chat with people around me, who I actually knew nothing about and 3) relax.
I noticed that the person I had yelled at in line was- of course- seating in the row in front of me. So I tapped his shoulder and apologized for my behaviour, and explained I had a weak point for orderly lines, and that I could be a bitch about it. He told me quickly "No harm done". Then he looked at me and said "Do you live in Lebanon?". And when I said that indeed, I did, he replied laughing "That doesn't surprise me. I would be annoyed by lines too." In that moment, his wife turned and offered me gum. I took it and she smiled at me.
When the conversation was over, I was moved to tears. "What a jerk I can be, my God" I though. This was an important lesson for me. Trying to make the world around me fit my expectations of how it should be robs me from the experience of feeling connected and appreciating the beauty in what is actually happening. Had I stuck to my righteousness, I would have lost this moment with these total strangers. The generosity and graciousness of this couple was extraordinary: they were joking around and offering gum to a woman who had been a total bitch to them 3 hours before.
If that isn't tolerance, then I don't know what is.