For anyone who has spent time in Boston, last week’s bombings were surreal. I grew up in Cambridge and have friends and family that permeate the area where the events of last week played out although I no longer live in the city. It felt weird to watch from what seemed to be so far away. Last night was the first time I’ve been to town since the bombings. It was a perfect spring evening in Boston made even more perfect by a Red Sox game and drinks on the just re-opened Boylston Street with friends. We got to talking about recent events and how proud we were of our city and it all had to do with coming together as a community to respond, protect, heal and support each other.
One of the best things that came out of this experience is that it revealed for everyone the true strengths in the character of Boston and its people – strengths that are mostly hidden from the surface and get missed by visitors and even people who live in Boston but did not grow up here. On the surface Bostonians can seem unfriendly, brusk and too busy to stop and smell the roses – or say hello. The community has pretty high social barriers to entry. You’re going to have to prove yourself, people are not just going to invite you in to their lives. If you translate that dynamic to an online community it might take the form of a lot of hoops to join the community and only moderate engagement on a daily basis. Some might look at it and say it’s a failed community.
But then something happens.
Engagement, at a deep and meaningful level, spikes in a way that doesn’t seem probable looking at normal activity levels. Engagement stays high until the problem is resolved.
And things return to normal.
While there wasn’t too much rushing about last night, people in Boston were back to their normal selves. A couple pleasantries with people sitting next to us at the ball game – well, after a few innings – and a nod or two at the bar. It was refreshingly normal to a local but might have seemed really weird to someone looking in at it, especially after the intensity of last week. It made me think about what we value, as a community. We value making a difference and we understand it truly is a marathon if you are looking to make an impact and I think that’s why Boston is surprisingly good at building communities that make a difference.
Likes and pleasantries are nice but when the chips are down, I want someone to carry me out of harm’s way.
I love my community.