SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Storm damage put a lot of things in perspective

As a rapid alphabet of climate change storms continues to wreak rainy havoc upon us, the reality of the new normal has come flooding into our hallways, our sitting rooms, our shop fronts, our businesses, our lives.

It’s not hard to imagine the horridness of being flooded, the visceral awfulness of it. The dismay, the feeling of helplessness, the sheer muddy, stinky, chilly slog of it all.

But as Ireland and the UK are forced to look again at flood defence budgets, listen to what one rural Yorkshire resident has to say about his home being flooded.

“I live in Hebden Bridge,” wrote Liam Cox on social media, in the days after Christmas where his home town was submerged. “It’s shit — everything has gotten really wet.”

His perspective, however, remains undamaged. “I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest countries in the world or criticised by its residents.”

Nor has his humanity been dampened. “All you morons vomiting your xenophobia on [social media] about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question... ‘Am I a decent and honourable human being?’ Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet”.

When rotten things happen, people tend to react on a spectrum from angry, bitter, and blaming to co-operative, empathetic, and optimistic. Sometimes a mixture. We are human, after all. But of all the bad reactions a person can have to local misfortune, xenophobia has got to the be worst. The mutant child of nationalism — defined by one online wag as “taking pride in stuff you didn’t do in order to hate people you have never met” — xenophobia kills your empathy and humanity stone dead.

We all know that the comments section anywhere online — even supposedly civilised places — is where the pitchforks live. Where the mobs gather, sharpening their spelling mistakes, poisoning their vitriol, honing their misinformation.

Imagine, then, explaining to a time traveller from the past how these days every citizen carries a device in their pocket which gives us access to all of human knowledge, power, endeavour and information. And what do we use it for, apart from sharing films of cats falling off pianos? Trolling. Ranting, abusing, hate-talking.

As Ireland prepares to take in 4,000 refugees fleeing hell, rather than high water, we have a choice.

We can empathise, now that our own homes have been flooded by an angry Mother Nature, and try to imagine what it might feel like to catastrophically lose not just our downstairs carpets, but everything, everything, everything. Violently.

We can tell the government we want to help more people far worse off than we are, that we are a rich country, with lots of space.

We can be decent human beings, because, just as that Yorkshire man said, ‘home’ is everywhere on the planet.

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