Hello people of Boston! Can you say hello or maybe crack a slight smile?
“What’s up with Boston, people aren’t friendly here.” I oftentimes hear this comment from my clients, particularly clients who recently moved here or who did not grow up here. From my own empirical observation as a psychotherapist, it seems Boston/Massachusetts newbies struggle to connect and easily develop friendships with people in Boston and the surrounding areas. I was raised in a Boston suburb and have spent the majority of my life in the Boston area attending schools and currently working and I agree with those who feel Boston is not socially the warmest of places.
Social connections are one of the most important aspects of self-care, yet, achieving this social self-care goal can be challenging in Beantown even if you’re not sporting Yankees gear. On that point is even documented proof of the unfriendly nature of Boston. Travel + Leisure magazine recently ranked Boston as the 7th rudest city in America.
Fortunately, it seems most people I treat or know personally eventually do find their social support group, but making those connections is not without an inordinate amount of time, effort and serious initiative. The experiences people have shared with me about their feelings of loneliness and their difficulties with socially connecting has made a significant impression on me. So much so that I try to be more mindful of my own social behavior and make a deliberate effort to be, well… friendlier. Sounds stupidly easy, right? Nonetheless, being friendly in Boston can be a bit tricky because it seems many Massachusetts natives are not used to being jubilantly approached and some even seem annoyed or suspicious of overtly friendly behavior.
Perhaps the root of Bostonians’ unfriendly nature is years of learned exclusivity, I mean, I don’t think Bostonians are born that way. In fact, I have had social experiences where I have questioned my own learned exclusive behavior. This past summer I almost missed an opportunity to meet a new couple in my community when I mindlessly didn’t make the effort to engage them in conversation at a summer party. I wasn’t unfriendly, I made eye contact and smiled, but socially I did not initiate. One of the members of the couple initiated and I ended up meeting some great new friends. When I reflected on this situation, I was frustrated with myself that I wasn’t mindful about initiating the conversation and that I behaved in a socially exclusive way.
Behavior, good or bad, is contagious and pervasive when it is tolerated and considered acceptable. It appears some people living in Boston and the surrounding areas have accepted Boston’s rude nature, even embraced it at times. According to the Boston Globe the term “Massholes” – a term of contempt for the Massachusetts’ natives – was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015.
Although there are many people from Boston and the surrounding areas who are socially friendly and welcoming, people may not be as mindful about their behavior because it has not been a cultural priority. As a Massachusetts native, I know we can all do better, myself included, with behaving in a more inclusive and friendly way. This social change in the community starts with you and here are some ways to start spreading the love. Reflect on whether you are typically a socially inclusive or exclusive person and pay attention to how you behave in social situations. Are you open and friendly to new and old friends and connect with them in easily or do you feel resistance and detachment at times? Behaving in a socially exclusive manner is often exemplified by poor eye contact, no smile or not engaging in conversations. Socially exclusive behavior can also mean connecting only with people who are known and safe. Be mindful of when you feel socially resistant, you may be behaving in a socially exclusive way more often than you realize.
The solution to breaking this pattern of exclusive behavior is mindfulness, particularly for those of us who are not as socially extroverted. It takes so little to say hi and yet the benefits can be huge. Deliberate goal setting is also a powerful means to change your behavior to be more socially inclusive. Setting small, socially inclusive goals may include behaviors such as saying hello to people in the elevator; asking the bagger at the grocery store how their day is going; or speaking with people you have never met before.
Although we all need a social break at times, the negative aspect of being too socially exclusive is the lost opportunity of making new connections with people who can have a positive impact on you and energize your life. So, come on people of Boston crack a little smile, maybe even say “happy holidays,” I promise it won’t hurt you and it may even make you feel better.