We’re No. 5!
When I found out Boston had been named fifth rudest city in America, according to a survey in Business Insider, I confess that my first reaction was an aggressive, munici-pugilistic “Why aren’t we number one?” We have the best schools! The worst rush-hour traffic! The best football team and the best collection of the CTE-damaged brains of football players!
My feelings aside, a higher rank may actually be empirically deserved. A long-running psychological study discovered that America breaks into three “personality clusters” — New England is the vividly named “uninhibited and temperamental” region: curious, open-minded, neurotic and . . . argumentative. (Interestingly, Texans share the same profile, but Texans have a lot more room in which to avoid one another than we do up here.) After all, our proudest historical traditions involve dumping thousands of dollars of beverages into the sea and riding around on horseback in the middle of the night yelling at our neighbors. We’re Frasier Freud-splaining at you and Carla cussing you out — sometimes at the same time.
This Midwestern transplant (that same study designated the Midwest the “friendly and conventional” region . . . you can see why I left) persists in seeing a hidden sweetness behind Boston bluster — and ways even we might be kinder to one another. Here’s how:
Strike up a conversation. Boston is like Gotham City. Everyone here has some remarkable second job or back story or secret identity that you wouldn’t know when you first meet them. The dog walker is a cellist is a breast-cancer survivor is an Olympic-level fencer is undocumented is the parent of an autistic teenager is the brother of a best-selling author. Don’t make assumptions based on first impressions, and do start conversations and follow where they lead.
Ride mindfully. Boston is in a transportation crisis, and to whatever extent possible, let’s remember that we’re in it together, not as combatants. Try meditation — call it “T-Passana,” and do deep diaphragmatic breathing when you are riding the subway. It genuinely helps calm your flight-or-fight instincts—not to the point where you’re going to bliss out and miss your stop, just to the point that you’ll still be worth something once you’re there, and won’t have exhausted your emotional energy just getting where you need to be. And for heaven’s sake, either take a seat or give one up — don’t just stand in front of empty seats! That does no one any good.
Allow a graceful exit. We let people off the subway before we get on. Similarly, give people a social exit if you’re asking them for a favor or information. Slide an “If you can’t it’s no problem” in before a favor request, an “If you happen to know . . .” before a question — make it OK for the other person to say “no” or “I don’t know.” It’s about making people feel that they won’t disappoint you by not being hip or knowledgeable enough. Bostonians can be hard on themselves.
And of course, a fourth tip for those really intractable social conundrums — write to Miss Conduct in 2020!
READ MORE ADVICE ON STICKING WITH YOUR RESOLUTIONS:
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.