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Manchester's People Proce It: Humanity At Its Best

26/05/2017 12:13 BST | Updated 26/05/2017 12:13 BST

Almost from the first moment that the bomb exploded and the news spread through the city, the people of Manchester were proving a fundamental truth about humanity. It's a universal fact that often goes unreported and gets lost in the torrent of grim news.

There's a widespread belief - particularly among state security services - that disasters bring out the worst in people. Media teams search for proof that people routinely regress to selfishness, hatred, looting and savagery.

That's not what's happened in Manchester.

"Choose love, Manchester," said poet Tony Walsh to thunderous applause from the thousands who gathered in the city's central Albert Square. "This is a place where we stand strong together," he wrote in an ode - This is the place - to the city's spirit over the ages.

"After last night's terrorist attack," said a BBC reporter on the scene, "the feeling I get here is that despite the terrible things that happened in the city last night, there is a real sign of togetherness and a real sign of hope."

David Walker, the bishop of Manchester, told the vigil that took place within hours of the bombing, "We are still grieving and we are angry, but we can direct those feelings in a positive direction . . . Love is always stronger than hate."

The Paradise Built in Hell

"The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it," says author Rebecca Solnit in a study of major catastrophes worldwide. "In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones," she says in her study, The Paradise Built in Hell.

Solnit studied both natural disasters, like the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and human catastophes like the Blitz, the Vietnam War and the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Her study of 9/11 concludes: "About 25,000 people in the towers aided each other in an orderly evacuation without which the casualty figures would have been much higher than the 2,603 that resulted . . . A spontaneously assembled armada of boats [at the southern tip of Manhattan island] conducted in a few hours an evacuation far larger than the fabled ten-day Dunkirk evacuation of the Second World War." Within the towers, she writes:

A thirty-five-year-old financier named Adam Mayblum escaped with several co-workers from the eighty-seventh floor of the north tower, just a few floors below the airplane. In an account widely circulated on the internet, he wrote about their descent down the staircases as things around them fell apart: "We could not see at all. I recommended that everyone place a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them and call out if they hit an obstacle so others would know to avoid it. They did. It worked perfectly." Later in his email account, he added: "They failed in terrorizing us. We were calm. If you want to kill us, leave us alone because we will do it by ourselves. If you want to make us stronger, attack and we unite. This is the ultimate failure of terrorism."

We see it in Manchester

This is the same spirit, the same power of human beings coming together and helping each other in time of need, that we are seeing in Manchester over these days.

The city is a small version of the United Nations. Everyone, when asked about the city by reporters, talks about the diversity of the population. There are said to be 200 languages spoken in the city. It also offers a rich mosaic of faiths, with churches and synagogues in the same parts of town as mosques and Sikh gurudwaras.

"As a Sikh, we are meant to help the community when it's needed," said AJ Singh, a taxi driver who spent hours offering his cab freely to anyone who needed it. He placed a "Free taxi if needed" sign in his cab and helped ferry the injured to help. "We should come out and show whoever has done this that it doesn't matter because in Manchester we're glue and we stick together when it counts," he said.

Countless others rose to the occasion, bringing supplies to the hospitals, bottled water to the police, offering their homes to anyone needing a bed for the night.

"First thing I did was get myself up and straight to the blood donor [clinic] in Manchester and donate my blood," said one. Hundreds joined her in the long line of volunteers arriving at the clinic.

We see it everywhere

In fact, if we think back over all the heartbreaking news we have watched -- whether it is the nightmare of the fighting in Syria and Yemen, the tsunamis in Southeast Asia and Japan, the refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, or the innumerable human tragedies we see unfolding - there is almost invariably a spontaneous outpouring of human solidarity. It is more than sympathy or collective panic. It is not limited solely to family, friends or neighbours.

"Within minutes following most domestic disasters, thousands of people begin to converge on the disaster area and on first-aid stations, hospitals, relief, and communications centers in the disaster environs,' wrote Charles Schultz, a former soldier who went on to lead a ground-breaking study of disasters at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s. What he identified became known as the phenomenon of convergence. "Movement toward the disaster area usually is both quantitatively and qualitatively more significant than flight or evacuation from the scene of destruction."

Among the huge number of young people at the Manchester Arena concert were the two daughters and two nieces of Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. He praised the "spontaneous acts of ordinary people" of Manchester following the attack.

More than £1,000,000 has been raised for a fund to help support the families in the aftermath of the attack - already exceeding the target set by the Manchester Evening News.

Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, said the efforts of the community, showed "the true spirit of our city in the face of such devastating tragedy. They responded in the best possible way with generosity, with kindness, that was I think humbling," he said. "And I think that sends a message to the whole world about what kind of people we are."

His words echo those of Martin Luther King Jr, speaking in some of the darkest days of the civil rights struggle in the United States:

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

I have the feeling he would feel a sense of deep pride and gratitude - as well as boundless compassion at this time of shock, horror and loss - if he were to see Manchester being the best that humanity can be.