Of all the descriptions of humankind, perhaps the most creative came from the French mathematician Blaise Pascal who described humans as, “the glory and the scum of the universe”.
Pascal’s words came to mind as news broke on the horrific attack on concertgoers in May, as they left the Manchester Arena in north-west England having enjoyed a performance by American pop star Ariana Grande.
As updates revealed that 22 people had been killed and many more injured, the world reacted with many expressions of raw emotions.
When I read about the victims of the attack and of the families so desperate to hear whether their loved ones were safe, it was difficult to avoid sharing those feelings that arise in dreadful circumstances. Anger, confusion, sadness, and despair was felt the world over that the lives of innocent people were needlessly devastated in such a cruel and barbaric manner.
Whenever such atrocities occur, it doesn’t feel like there’s much glory in humanity after all. It seems like barely a month goes past without some assault on our freedoms by a tiny minority of people who represent nothing except their own confusion and the fear they seek to instil. But whenever adversity strikes, our human spirit always seeks out a tiny flicker of hope, of something positive that can be made brighter even in our darkest hour.
And we saw that in Manchester, in the midst of the heartache, desperation and grief, as the city’s people banded together to create a little light that soon shone bright in the face of terror and fear.
It was immensely heartening to see so many people offering their support to those in need. Taxi drivers offered their services free of charge, and people opened up their homes to concert goers who needed a safe place to stay and contact their loved ones. Within three days, online crowdfunding campaigns raised £5mil (RM27mil) for the families, and West Ham FC co-owner David Sullivan offered to provide six months’ free accommodation to a homeless man who rushed to help victims on the night. The man, known only as Steve, was tracked down after a plea was made on Twitter from Sullivan’s son asking for people’s help to find him.
That April 22 attack was supposed to foster fear, terror and confusion; and it succeeded, but only for a short time. This kind of violence is also designed to divide people – a goal that always fails as everyone rallies around to help those in need as much as they can. It’s in this space that we find the glory of mankind in all its splendour.
Far from being frightened into withdrawing from the world, the people of Manchester showed that no amount of fear can withstand the strength and determination of those who come together in friendship and solidarity.
The English philosopher Bernard Williams once said that “man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit”. Horrific events throughout our recent history until today have also shown that no adversity exists that can deflate the human spirit for long: no matter how hard the hit, we always bounce back stronger than ever.
Manchester is a city steeped in history. It’s the birthplace of Emmeline Pankhurst, who led the British suffragette movement in the early 1900s and campaigned tirelessly for women’s right to vote. It’s where Alan Turing revolutionised the way we communicate through his work in modern computer science, and where Ernest Rutherford first split the atom in 1919. The first Rolls Royce car was built in the city, and today’s English Premier League has its roots in Manchester where the country’s first football league was set up in 1888.
With its rich historic culture of music, architecture, art, and literature, Manchester is a city that has seen its fair share of trials and triumphs. Just like the city itself, those who call Manchester home are still standing, strong and defiant in the face of a terror that tried to change their way of life.
It’s impossible to know where and when any future cowardly attacks might occur, but we will undoubtedly deal with them in the same stoic spirit of defiance, love and support as always.
As Grande poignantly wrote in a touching open letter to her fans, “Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder, and to live more kindly and generously than we did before.”
Sandy Clarke has long held an interest in emotions, mental health, mindfulness and meditation. He believes the more we understand ourselves and each other, the better societies we can create. If you have any questions or comments, e-mail email@example.com.