Nashville Strong Isn’t Special

The Boston marathon bombing was the first time I heard the phrase “[insert city] Strong.” Boston Strong was plastered on t-shirts, advertisements, and anything else that could hold letters. Since then, it’s been used in El Paso, Houston, Dayton, and more. The phrase is meant to signify that these places are special. That when tragedies happened, they band together to support their neighbors.

A violent storm tore through Nashville and surrounding communities this week. One tornado ripped a 50-mile-long path of destruction, killing at least 24 people and demolishing houses across numerous cities. Cars were flipped upside down. Pieces of metal were torn from buildings and turned into spears. Businesses that had been built up for years were reduced to piles of refuse.

And of course, the phrase “Nashville Strong” has become a rallying cry.

The reaction of the local population has been nothing short of inspiring. People are taking off of work to help clear the rubble. Strangers are opening their homes to each other. Businesses and random people alike are offering food, clothing, and anything else those displaced by the storms need. People always talk about how Nashvillians treat each other like old friends even if they’ve never met. Honestly, after living here for five years I have only seen a mild version of this to be true. But the last few days have lived up to that sentiment whole-heartedly.

I have a long-standing view of the human race that is not entirely favorable. I think, in general, people are selfish. It’s not our fault — it’s just how we’re built. We are privy to the deepest and most intimate details of our own minds. We understand the minutia and intricacies of our motivations. We spend every waking moment of every day locked inside our own heads so we’re a little biased when it comes down to deciding who gets the last slice of pizza.

You don’t need to look further than traffic for evidence of the plausibility of my theory.

This seems like a good time to say that the last two days have changed my viewpoint. That the outpouring of selfless support has opened my eyes to the inherent goodness of society.

But it hasn’t. Homeless encampments still exist.

It has however tweaked my theory a bit. Now, I’ve never purported everybody to be selfish and rude (even if unintentionally). Just the majority of people. But perhaps I got the ratio wrong. You see, it’s all a matter of visibility.

If you’re in the standing at the self checkout lane at the grocery store and someone jumps in front of you, they’re an asshole. So far as you’ve seen, every person you’ve interacted with is an asshole. Ipso facto everyone’s an asshole. But this equation fails to take the line of others waiting patiently for their turn because you’re not paying attention to them. And you’re not paying attention to them because they are not being tested and giving you an opportunity to display their virtues.

Normal life is this grocery store line.

But after a tragedy like a tornado, the complacent good is spurred to action.

Now all we see on the news are the people that don’t normally attract attention acting upon their good impulses. Volunteers. Donations. People are coming together and it seems like a Grateful Dead song self-actualized.

This is just the asshole in the self checkout line, but reversed.

We see what we look for. Right now we’re looking for good because we need a win. We lost pretty hard a couple nights ago and we need to feel like there’s good to balance it out. This is healthy. This is good. The other option is to sink into a pit of despair, listen to Bright Eyes all day long, and cry and cry and cry.

As hard as it is to fathom, people are still assholes even when tragedies happen. One business was looted as soon as the tornado had moved across the river. But we’re just not paying attention to that right now (which is okay).

The thing I realized through the emergence of Nashville Strong is that we’re not special. Neither are the people in Boston or anywhere else where that tagline becomes used after a tragedy. I realize this sounds callous. It sounds like I’m being a contrarian and an asshole and picking on people that are going through a terrible ordeal.

But I’m not.

This is actually a good thing.

The fact that these communities aren’t made up of superhumans that love each other more than anywhere else is a sign that this ability exists in every part of the country. Of the world. Maybe people aren’t inherently selfish. Maybe people just aren’t usually properly motivated.

I think there are good people everywhere. This might sound like a throwaway line that someone says to pick others up. But it’s a fairly big statement for a serial pessimist such as myself. The only way this “[insert city] Strong” thing could catch on as much as it has is if people in every city embody the spirit of the phrase.

And they have.

So instead of begrudging the phrase like I did up until about 12:30 this afternoon, I’ll treat it like Crossfit. I understand why you need it, but it’s not for me.

And if you feel like helping out, donate to the Nashville Humane Association here and the Nashville Tornado Relief Fund here.

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Just some guy trying to find his way in this crazy, mixed-up world.

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Josh Rank

Josh Rank

Just some guy trying to find his way in this crazy, mixed-up world.

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