After a pipe bomb explosion in the underground tunnel between the Port Authority and Times Square subway stations in Manhattan, the usual tweets and updates began to trickle out. Once again, we heard about how New Yorkers are unfazed by an attack. Brave New Yorkers refuse to be deterred. They move on with their day, worried about delayed trains and rubberneckers.
There’s nothing wrong with praising New Yorkers’ resilience after tragedies. It’s nice to glom onto civic pride, especially when it’s associated with toughness and grit. But what’s heroic about moving on with your day? Does being from or living in New York actually make you tougher? Or does it just mean you’re exposed to more craziness?
The same can be said of empathy. When tragedy strikes, New Yorkers are praised for caring about the people around them, despite stereotypes that say the opposite. Earlier this year, a scaffolding collapse in SoHo left a number of people injured. In the aftermath, people scurried to help lift the fallen metal off folks trapped underneath. It was an amazing scene, and even more amazing that no one was seriously injured. Articles about the incident immediately praised New Yorkers’ innate desire to help their fellow man.
People on the scene were truly heroic, doing everything they could before authorities arrived. But it wasn’t because they were New Yorkers, it was because they were people. Are people in an anonymous small town any less likely to try and pull people out from a collapsed structure?
The same logic applies to a bombing like the one earlier this week. If a large group of people from Montana witnessed some violent act, would they incite panic? Would they wallow in self pity rather than help those they were able to? Probably not.
Maybe it’s just a byproduct of living in a city with 8 million other people. Can you imagine how miserable this place would be if people started overreacting to every little impropriety they see (let alone botched terrorist attacks)?
So when media outlets praise the resiliency of New Yorkers, maybe what they’re really complimenting is the city’s ability to put up with bullshit. It’s a more accurate assessment of the word anyway—in New York people don’t panic, they get annoyed for being inconvenienced, because they’re always inconvenienced.
I guess in a world of panic and confusion, that’s a desirable trait. It’s better to be selfishly annoyed than communally panicked. New York is viewed as harsh and unforgiving because it is. The people that live and thrive here are special for various reasons. But it’s not because they’re better at helping people in immediate danger or moving on with their lives.
It’s because they don’t have time for this shit.