Opinion

Don't let media headlines blitz the decent side of human nature

It sometimes feels like the world has lost all compassion but, as Big Issue editor Paul McNamee, writes, people do want to do good.

RNLI lifeboat training. Image credit: forkcandles/flickr

And there they stood, blocking the lifeboat. The story last week of the men on the Hastings beach preventing a life-saving boat from putting to sea became emblematic of all that was wrong with how we live now.

Just days before 27 desperate people drowned in the Channel, the lifeboat was called out for a search and rescue operation.

“Don’t bring no more back home here, that’s what we stopped our donations for,” a man shouted as the lifeboat was held up. Police were called to settle things. That moment of bleak bitterness and anger cast a long shadow.

It can be hard to escape the sense that the incident is part of a wider and growing division, a nasty circling of the wagons: I know my rights, I’ll protect what is mine, keep those others out. You can see it in the red-faced shouting certainty of anti-mask protesters. So much energy for such a small thing. So to speak.

And it crosses borders. Last week Kevin Strickland was released after serving 42 years in a Missouri jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

He had maintained his innocence since his conviction at the age of 18. Accused and found guilty of murder and on two counts of attempted murder he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 50 years. He always said he was at home watching TV at the time of the crime. A new review of his case showed there was no evidence against him and he was freed immediately. Imagine that life taken away because somebody trumped up a lie, and nobody would believe the truth.

Kevin Strickland isn’t going to get any compensation for his ruined years. Due to a weird quirk of Missouri state law, because his conviction wasn’t quashed on DNA grounds, he isn’t eligible.

That is some position to take. Ruin a life, wash your hands of the consequences and then send him penniless into the world.

Strickland’s lawyers decided to start a crowdfunder to help him at least have some buffer. Within five days the fund sat at $1.5m. That is significant and it’s telling. People want to help.

Back in Hastings, something else was happening. While the angry handful were making headlines, over 250 residents gathered for a vigil for the 27 people who died. Local businesses, around the same time, helped 93 people who landed on the town’s beaches seeking a new life. People want to help.

During the first lockdown much was made of the hand up offered to those who were without – whether lonely, or isolating or struggling to make ends meet. A sense of doing something meaningful for somebody beyond yourself became a driving motif.

The fear was that this wouldn’t carry on, that as normal service was resumed people would have less space for others and the personal quotidian needs would crowd around.

Some of that is true. There is a generalised worry among a lot of people around the cost of living, and how that impacts now and in the weeks and months ahead.

But people are still good. Just because one or two stand loudly in front of a lifeboat doesn’t mean this is the majority. A YouGov poll last week revealed 82 per cent of people disapprove of the government’s handling of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. That is certainly not what some headlines are keen for us all to believe.

Every single week we see it at The Big Issue in the interaction with our vendors and in small, and sometimes big, gestures. We understand the deep well of empathy that still exists.

People want to do good. We should remember that when the storms claiming all is division blow. 

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big IssueRead more of his columns here.

paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com

@PauldMcNamee

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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