Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nashville not ranked among most charitable cities

I take "rankings of cities" lists with an appropriate grain of salt, but local news media and city marketers inflate their importance when Nashville gets highly ranked and they ignore them when Nashville fails. So, it is important to point out news that you probably will not see in the local news media: Nashville did not make the list of "most charitable US cities," either in 2011 or 2010 (the year of our 1,000-year flood).

What is significant for me about our city failing to make the list in 2011, is that this year the news media marked the first anniversary of our flood with narratives about exemplary ways our city responded to the catastrophe. The celebration of local voluntarism does not bother me. What does is the comparative tone the media gives Nashville's volunteers, as if other communities are not as impressive or as strong.

Last May, for instance, WPLN reporter Blake Farmer speculated that Nashville serves as inspiration for rescue/relief response to tornadic catastrophe in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. I responded thusly:

If anything, our experience of coming out the other side of the hells of destruction that other people are in or just entering ought to give us pause, the humility to figure out what we can do to support them, not promote ourselves. And using New Orleans again as our own personal foil is both ignoble and revolting. We should expect more from ourselves and demand better from local journalists.

Likewise, for these national rankings of most charitable cities: the fact that we do not make them ought to give us a sense of modesty, perhaps a sense of shame that our journalists and PR flacks overestimated our comparative worth in the charitable world in the name of commemorating our response to the flood of 2010.

Just like we continue to believe that our volunteer and donor spirit has worth beyond these year-end rankings that do not include Nashville, so do we need to accept that the same spirit does not need to inspire other cities (and distract attention from their response) to have worth.

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