Our Collective Response to the Boston Marathon Bombings and What It Tells Us

Original Post: Monday, April 22, 2013

A week after the horrifying events in Boston that shook us to the core, we are left wondering why two brothers would decide to so callously maim and kill a group of strangers with whom they have no direct connection.

It was an act of violence that physically injured scores of Boston Marathon onlookers, but also had an emotional impact on the rest of us.

Why did we connect so closely with the victims?

A simple explanation is the fact that it was such a random act and targeted an iconic, family event. And, because it could have happened to any of us, there was and still is, an emotional bond with the victims of the attack.

It has been a difficult last few months.

To see defenseless children slaughtered in the Newtown shootings hit us hard. And, the stories of those killed and injured in Boston further damaged our collective psyche.

Most recently, it was the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. The loss of so many first responders there, is a reminder of the dangers they encounter. And again, we were struck by the randomness of it.

In every case, there have been acts of bravery, courage and heroism that show us the enormous capacity of the human spirit. It has truly been inspiring to see so many people think of others first.

And, our response to all that we have witnessed —- has been one of kindness, compassion, and empathy.

Kindness is a Strength

I’ve covered sports for most of my 37-years in radio and have always been struck by the macho culture in the locker room. Words like kindness, empathy and compassion aren’t thrown around much in that environment.

Those three traits long have been viewed as more feminine qualities. Many have viewed them as weak traits, as in “men shouldn’t cry”.

The truth, of course, is that kindness, empathy and compassion are signs of strength. And, we are seeing that more often reflected in our society, as more people feel they can show their honest emotions of hurt, without ridicule.

I don’t know why it’s taken so long in the sports world, but the change is a welcome one.

You can argue that it’s not so much that athletes have changed, but that they are more willing to acknowledge their feelings.

Of course, we still have a ways to go. There still are some examples of misguided criticism.

Do We Want Athletes to Care, or Not?

Remember when Miami Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra said some of this players were crying in the locker room after a loss to the Chicago Bulls in March of 2011? There were pundits and fans that called them out for it. Of course, some of those critics are the same ones who complain that pro players care more about their paychecks than about winning and losing.

But far outnumbering those stories are ones that reveal how athletes respect traits of compassion and kindness.

Intrinsic Motivation Creates Memorable Stories

To this day, people remember the 2003 NBA Playoff game when then Portland Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks helped a 13-year-old girl sing the national anthem when she forgot the words. The video of that gesture went viril on the internet and resulted in thousands of letters of appreciation being sent to Cheeks.

That simple act of kindness touched us.

No one viewed it as a weakness. It was seen as a feel good moment and a wonderful example of empathy and compassion.

Remember the 2008 story of the Central Washington University softball team members who helped carry a rival player around the base paths after the opposing batter was injured running the bases after a 3-run homer?

Central Washington lost the game 4-2, but won the admiration of many fans across the country. While some questioned whether guys would have done the same in a baseball game, most everyone viewed it as an act of sportsmanship.

That gesture will be remembered a lot longer than the outcome of the game.

Last year, a high school cross country runner stopped during a race to come to the aid of a runner from the other team who had suffered a seizure. Showing his priorities were well placed, the young man remained with the stricken runner until a paramedic arrived. And only then did he return to finish the race.

Just recently, the Louisville men’s basketball team, responded emotionally after watching a terrible injury to a teammate during a game. The players weren’t viewed as weak or soft. They were respected for the heartfelt compassion they expressed for a fallen teammate.

The qualities of compassion, kindness and empathy are powerful. They tell us a lot about our shared values. They bring us together. They strengthen our resolve. They inspire us to be more caring and often lead to “pay it forward” acts of generosity.

In short, these are expressions of our humanity. And, they make us better people.

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