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Refugee Crisis: Kindness or Tear Gas - You Decide

21/09/2015 10:24 BST | Updated 18/09/2016 10:12 BST

I'm just an ordinary woman. I have children and grandchildren and I work full time to support my family. I pay taxes and I get angry at injustice. It's easy to get lost in the politics and the religion and the not-in-my-back-yard attitudes that pervade the current stories about the refugee crisis, but the television footage of tear gas being used on the children of refugees has horrified me.

I'm also a psychologist and I'm aware that, below this constant newsfeed of sensory information about what is happening in a far-off country, where there is a sea and mountains between us and them, is another layer. It's in that layer that, just before you fall asleep, that you wonder: What if it was me?

That's where human kindness resides. In that part of all of us that sweeps aside the bias and the arguments. That turns us away from our screens and pages and puts us in another person's shoes.

Everyone has this layer, but sometimes it isn't accessible, or it's undeveloped. In our teenage years we develop concrete thinking in order to understand how to live in the world, and this should turn to abstract thinking which engenders empathy. But, in some people, this is crushed by closing off to anyone else's point of view and becoming blinded to the reasons why other people think in different ways. Thinking we are 'right' and backing this up with a single, overarching narrative without considering other possible scenarios results of lack of empathy.

I hope that the people who somehow think it is 'right' to tear-gas refugee children can reach inside to find that kindness. Using tear gas on children, or anyone, who have already suffered the agonies of war cannot be kind under any circumstances. You might think that it isn't that simple, that there are causes, reasons, politics, laws or rules. But it is simple. As the United Nations tweeted this morning - it's not a crime to cross a border to seek asylum.

Just to be absolutely clear, and to those people who say that it is the refugee child's parent's fault for putting their children in that situation, I ask you to think, as you lie safely in your warm bed tonight, if you were faced with the possibility of starvation and bombing, what would you do? Would you stay and let your children starve or be bombed, or would you try to escape? Because that is the reality faced by many of the refugees.

I know what I would do. Faced with a dangerous situation several years ago I tried to escape, I found myself homeless. Only for a couple of hours in the middle of the afternoon, until a kind friend offered me and my children her spare room. But it was terrifying. I had no idea where my children would sleep. Or eat. No access to toilets or washing facilities. No privacy. I've never forgotten the terror I was fleeing from either, or the sense of helplessness. Thankfully, after several frantic phone calls, someone found their human kindness and helped me. It was inconvenient for them. It meant that they had to share their space with me for a while, but they did it and gave me a base to rebuild my life.

The refugees' situation is obviously much worse that the temporary, first world problem I faced. Through the destruction of their homeland, over which they have no control, they have been reduced to a label, shunted around only to find doors slammed in their faces. They have nothing. The world only sat up and noticed when a drowned child was given a name, but that was soon forgotten as keyboard warriors went to work in their warm homes, quick to judge people who have escaped violence and destruction in their own country only to be tear gassed in Europe. Further displacing people, yes, people, who already have no home.

Globally, we said that we would never let displaced people be herded around Europe on trains, their faces pressed against razor wire and high fences. That we'd never again hurt people who, for whatever reason, had been marked as 'other'. On an individual level many people now don't seem so sure.

We have a choice: to discriminate against other people on the basis of them being 'other' and deny them safety - or to be kind. It really is a choice and if you choose the former I pity you. You can hide it behind political posturing and words like 'quota' and 'border' but deep down it's judging another person as different, less, or other. You can dress it up in philosophical words and metaphors, but the simple core human response to the current refugee crisis is to be kind. Human kindness isn't opinion or belief, it's action. Please be kind.