'Look for the Helpers'
So here we are again - blood has been spilt, lives have been lost and Britain is on the highest state of alert, anticipating further attacks to follow. Just a couple of months back I was reflecting on the aftermath of the Westminster attack and now Manchester is the focus. Perhaps it will be my home town, or yours next week.
Recently I listened to some sage advice offered by Suzanne Berniers of 'Disaster Heroes'. She said, whenever chaos reigns, shift your focus and look for the helpers. Amid the rubble, the devastation and the fear, there will always be those who are taking small, real world actions to serve those in need. Sure enough, the people of Manchester stepped up. Minutes after the bomb was detonated at the Ariana Grande concert, the emergency services responded, heading towards the scene, despite the fact that there could well have been more explosions to come.
Then, in the hours to follow, social media platforms were awash with promises of support and immediate help. Households opened their doors with offers of warm soup, a spare bed for the night or a free ride home where needed. By the next morning, as the rest of Britain was waking up to the news, queues were forming at local blood banks and the usual stories began to emerge; stories of ordinary people comforting those caught up in the violence, giving first aid, pulling nails from the faces and limbs of kids, or holding someone as they died in their arms. I didn't need to look for the helpers, because they were everywhere.
As I have been witnessing our national response to this latest attack, it has dawned on me that these 'acts of terror' are so self-defeating. By definition, fear and despair are the currency that must be traded if they are to prove worthwhile and, while the chaos in the arena that evening was of course terrifying for those who heard the explosions and were caught up in the violence, our wider community is no more afraid than we were yesterday. Instead, we have once again been challenged to examine our values and to lean into a heady mix of compassion and defiance. Each time this ugliness spews its hatred into our communities, we have responded by pulling together, experiencing post-traumatic growth rather than cowering or submitting.
There can be no compromise or understanding reached in the struggle we find ourselves embroiled in. Almost half a century has passed since we faced a systematic campaign of terror in Britain, but the IRA at least had demands to be met and a path that promised an end to the bombings. The enemy today is a different beast altogether - only our complete annihilation will slake its thirst. ISIS is a nihilistic death cult, a viral aberration that will flail its way towards its own demise. There will be more casualties to come before that happens no doubt, but with each attack our collective immune system is growing stronger and we will more vigorously stand for tolerance and diversity because those qualities have come at such a high price.
The first mutterings of the intolerant have started to turn up on Facebook and Twitter - calls for mass deportations, tighter controls and increased powers to protect us from horrors like this ever happening again. These too are predictable as clockwork and misguided - living in a safe prison would only hand a victory to the extremists by the back door. The reality is unpalatable - as we go about our day to day lives, there is always the chance that someone is lurking in the shadows who means us harm and is willing to pay any price to destroy all that we hold dear. It is absolutely the right call to be vigilant and to put reasonable measures in place, to make it harder for them to achieve their objectives, but not at the expense of our broader liberty and quality of life. If someone wants to hurt or kill you, and they are willing to die themselves to get the job done, the odds are stacked in their favour. This is not something you might want to hear but it is a cold truth that we need to look square in the eye.
Once accepted, we arrive at the only viable response to this kind of campaign - a response which is already emblazoned on mugs, posters and pencil cases across the nation - to 'keep calm and carry on'! We must carry on giving blood, carry on offering a hot meal or a shoulder to cry on. We must carry on the difficult conversations which will cultivate unity in our neighbourhoods, rather than allow grief and pain to mutate into a misdirected lust for revenge. We must keep showing up to gigs, festivals, and other gatherings and celebrate the love and trust that we find there - we must, in short, carry on living. There's nothing more toxic to death dealers than a people profoundly in love with their lives.