People Who Aren’t Americans

traingif1 (1)

This is a clip from a remarkable story you can read here; to summarize, a man boarding a train slipped and his leg was trapped between the train and the platform. The commuters briefly waited for train officials to help him free. When that didn’t happen, they worked together to push the train and free the man themselves.

I saw a story like this a few weeks ago, I think from Japan. And as soon as I saw just the headline–“Hero Commuters Lift Train Off Trapped Man In Stunning Footage”–and the gif, knowing no details, my first thought was: Those aren’t Americans. Turns out I was right. They’re not.

How did I know that? Why is this so obviously not something Americans would do?

4 thoughts on “People Who Aren’t Americans

  1. it’s because americans think someone else will do something. there’s name for it, that i cannot remember. they talk about with regard to kitty genovese. and also in that matthew modine movie, gross anatomy. there’s a story where three of medical students are on the way to their final at separate times. the professor says that he will not accept anyone to the exam who is late. the first comes across a person clearly in need of assistance, looks at his watch and continues to class, the second does something similar. the third sees the person and stops to help, making himself late for the exam. after, he walks to the test room and waits for the professor, he explains and apologizes. the teacher smiles and says “that was the test. you passed”

    you are statistically less likely to get someone to help you in a large crowd than you are when there are only a few people around. it’s why that “if not you than who?” slogan has taken off. to remind people that we all have the power of individual contribution to make things better and our indifference just provides the excuse for every other person to be equally indifferent.


    • It makes me wonder about the power of mythology or stories versus reality or truths. American history and culture is saturated with the myth of individualism…the other day I heard Colin Cowherd, a professional radio dope, saying what makes Americans greater than Canadians is that in the US there’s an infinite ceiling but no safety net, whereas in other places–namely Canada, since he kept specifying it–there’s a safety net but also a ceiling. The reality is that historically the vast majority of all Americans, regardless of class or eventually race or gender, have benefited from institutional, outside help. In fact, did you know when Rose Ingalls Wilder, the descendant of Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame, found Laura’s diaries, she initially refused to sell them to a publisher because she didn’t like that they revealed stories about her rugged individualist ancestors receiving federal aid?


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