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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
68 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 labels, spit on sidewalks, or scratch genitals in public, for instance—skipped Beantown. I’m not talking about violent crimes, or incidents of road rage that end with baseball bats in parking lots, or subway confrontations that precede a stab- bing, to note recent current events. I’m talking more about fundamental attitudes that suggest an individual’s apparent inability to think of the greater good. For example, when ambulances or police cars approach from behind with sirens blaring, it’s customary in other cities to pull to the side of the road, even if it means losing your spot in traffic. I don’t know why these lessons skipped Boston, and I don’t understand how residents cope. Is this all they know and so assume it’s normal? Or do Bostonians acknowledge their collective condition and simply steel themselves to face the chaos each morning? What I do know is that if you’re not from here, it’s very difficult to adjust. OK, it’s not like I’m living in the midst of an African civil war or military crackdown in the Middle East, and I understand that this conflict consists more of frustration than actual danger. But shouldn’t we expect better from the city that calls itself “The Hub of the Universe”? Boston is, after all, the birthplace of our democracy. Is modern Boston’s rebellion against social graces actually a remnant of its original spirit of revo- lution? Or did history simply rewrite the Boston Tea Party as a political protest instead of conve- nient littering? I’m not alone in my frustration. A recent American Psychologist article, “Does It Matter Where We Live? The Urban Psychology of Character Strengths,” confirms my suspicions. The authors, University of Michigan psycholo- gists Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson, surveyed the fifty largest U.S. cities for “head strengths”—defined as creativity, curiosity, judg- ment, and love of learning—as well as “heart strengths,” or forgiveness, gratitude, love, kind- ness, and cooperation. For heart strengths, guy in a pickup truck nearly run over a much older man who was crossing on a “walk” signal. When the pedestrian meekly objected, the driver abruptly stopped in the intersection, climbed out of the truck amid honking horns, and raised his fist toward the old man, threatening to pummel him. At the next corner, a man in his twenties screamed obscenities at a group of uniformed schoolgirls while the driver of an errant van gave a pedestrian the finger as he drove by (an act I’d seen a few days earlier performed just as impressively by a priest). Minutes later, I was confronted by a woman inexplicably yelling at me, “Go back to the f**king nasty Italians.” Not that it matters but I’m actually Scotch-Irish, although my wife is from Rome. It didn’t take me long after moving here to suspect that Boston had peaked during the Revolution and has plunged downhill ever since. Take the subway, or what Bostonians call the T. Riders regularly claim seats reserved for the disabled while elderly passengers stand nearby, often objecting to no avail. Most have yet to master the basic etiquette of waiting to board until others exit the train—an act less of com- mon decency than practical efficiency, not unlike rules of the road. The modus operandi seems to be: When a train arrives, push to the front of the platform, board, and immediately stop moving once you’re in, even if you’re blocking a dozen folks behind you. There seems to be a very short, pardon the pun, train of thought. Little regard is paid to the most basic social graces; any attempt (presumably by “outsiders”) to form a line quickly devolves into mob rule. Fundamental lessons in social taboos that most of us learned early on—one shouldn’t hurl racist Where else in winter do residents mark shoveled parking spaces with orange traffic cones? Or with chairs, coffee tables, shopping carts, and baby strollers?