Stephen Jones was outside Manchester arena on 22 May 2017, sleeping on the street, as a terrorist’s shrapnel-laden bomb went off.
Instead of fleeing, the homeless man ran to help those affected by the horrendous attack, showing heroism in the face of terrible violence. Within days, a crowd-funding page was set up with thousands of people donating to get him off the streets. It was just one sign of the unity that overwhelmed Manchester after the fatal attack, as countless residents, using the hashtag #RoomforManchester, offered their homes to those left stranded by the attack and Muslim taxi drivers turned off their meters to ensure that the overwhelmingly young concert-goers made it home safely.
This outpouring of charitable support in response to terror often engenders an atmosphere of unity, bringing together diverse groups of people, including those who wouldn’t usually see themselves as part of the same community. It’s as if, when we see something larger than ourselves, it reminds us of how much we have in common, as we stand apart from those who seek to maim and kill.
Local paper, the Manchester Evening News, kick-started the We Love Manchester appeal fund following the terrorist attack, raising millions of pounds to help families and support projects across the city. Editor Rob Irvine suggests: “It’s sometimes only at points of extreme crisis that we realise just how important community is, in both practical and symbolic ways. The coming together of the city was a real source of emotional support for those affected by the attack. It also taught us a deeper truth: that community can be limitless. The very visible demonstrations of support and sympathy in places as far away as Australia and, much closer to home, Liverpool, a city traditionally regarded as a rival in so many ways, cemented that sense of global community – an outpouring of global human decency which transcends concepts of nation state or religious identity.”
But we can come together under less dire circumstances too, such as the London 2012 Olympics: from gymnastics mega-fans to casual table-tennis viewers, for a summer, it seemed as if everyone was suddenly speaking the same language. And this had a knock-on effect – volunteering increased during 2012/13 for the first time since 2005, with 42% of Londoners feeling inspired to volunteer more often or for the first time. These might seem like small fads, but remember the ice bucket challenge? Donations from these stunts caused a major research breakthrough in ALS within two years (and it only took 17 million YouTube videos!).
While it often feels like our society is irrevocably divided, moments like these serve to prove that a single-minded fulfilment of purpose is still possible – it’s just a case of finding the cause that we can all agree on.