You can say a lot of things about Americans without paying us any compliments, but there’s one thing even our biggest critics have to admit. People in this country step up when horrible stuff goes down, and that’s a pretty cool thing to be known for if you ask me. We might be rude much of the time, but we’re more likely to just be indifferent. Many people from other places might say indifference is rude, but we who witness both every day don’t actually see it that way. Not really caring about what is going on with the person walking past you on the street is just normal, to us; you have to go out of your way to be a real schmuck to make us think you’re being rude.
For those of us who grew up in small towns, we know parts of this country are about at friendly as friendly gets. My wife and I went to my hometown in Montana last summer, and then traveled through the state for a few more days. Even I was caught off guard a little by how nice folks were, and how often strangers went out of their way to wish us a nice day; and I grew up there, all those years ago. I guess spending a lot of time in California taught me to expect a little more of that indifference I was talking about, when dealing with others.
In truth, I’m kind of a fan of people walking by me like I’m not even there. Growing up in a small town had its perks, and the environment was indeed friendly; but everybody knows everyone’s business in a small town, as folks like to say. More than once I longed for neighbors that couldn’t care less that I lived next to them, or what I was up to; and when I moved to the city, I got exactly that.
A lot of Americans are rushing from place to place to get things done, and I admit to falling in love with that lifestyle from afar a long time ago. Now I like a balance, and living in the country while working in the city gives me that; but withdrawing completely from bustling centers of activity is not really for me. I love the peaceful countryside, and at the same time I love a city skyline. Both have their appeal, and I would rather not do without either for too long.
City life can be pretty harsh, though. We all face the choice of passing by homeless people or spending all day helping them, scammers will approach in all kinds of places virtual and temporal, and the people we have to deal with are seldom are reasonable as we think we are. Living amongst a lot of people has a bunch of advantages, but it’s likely to cause anyone spending even a little time in it to be a bit jaded. Those who grew up in densely populated areas seem to take it for granted, that their neighbors are going to keep to themselves as much as they are expected to; and that’s okay with me, if it’s okay with them.
Of course, these are the same people who open their pocketbooks when tragedy strikes. From the privacy of their homes, where no one cares what they’re doing, citizens across the nation quietly pitch in to help when others are truly in need. Natural disasters are like a ringing bell, for a lot of these folks; they lift their heads from what they’re focused on to cast their gaze across the country or around the world and lend a helping hand in the best way they can.
Plenty of Americans volunteer, and not just within their native borders; yet volunteers alone are seldom enough. Funds are needed for any rescue or rebuilding to happen, and all kinds of folks in this country seem to understand that. They send so much cash that sometimes there’s a surplus, and nobody expresses a desire to get even the extra money back. Somehow helping out in times of need is just hardwired into a lot of people in the United States, and those of us paying attention can’t help but be a little proud of that reputation.
We can ruin just about anything, from one perspective; but when the thing we’re ruining is the devastation from a tragedy, this view switches to a positive one. The action people in America take when the shit really hits the fan makes a difference, and that is inarguably kind of awesome. We might not be as helpful as folks from other countries, when you meet us on the streets; but nobody gives like we do in extreme circumstances.
This isn’t to say others don’t step up, and do their part; the point is that no one can deny how people in this country go above and beyond when tragedy strikes. New York went from having a dog eat dog reputation to being known as the friendliest city in the world for a period when the towers came down; maybe things are back to normal now, but for a little while all those people crammed into that tiny space came together over a shared wound.
Somewhere in all this, there’s a light we can shine on our neighbors even when all is well. Maybe they’ll compete with us for a dollar today, but we can enter that competition knowing they’ll help out if disaster strikes. It makes fighting for that dollar a little more fun, and reminds us we’re all just playing a game here, when they rush past doing minor battle with us to us to help another neighbor in major need.
So, remember…the assholes cutting us off on the freeway and pissing us off on social media are also good people, as evidenced by how many of them step up when tragedy strikes pretty much anywhere in the world. They are possibly bound by tragedy themselves in many cases, married to someone eerily similar to one of their parents or contemplating suicide options the way some of us consider items on a lunch menu. However, the help they offer when others need it is real; and it might say even more about them than how they behave when they’re behind the wheel of their car or the keyboard on their computer.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,