Belfast Telegraph

Beheadings, missing children, racism ... it all makes for grim reading...

...Yet each day also brings remarkable stories of kindness, bravery and heroism, reminding us the world is a good place too

By Una Brankin

Some would say it wasn't his time to go and that someone 'up there' was looking out for John Funston, the Belfast man who could have died in his car from a wasp sting last Friday.

In reality, it was the quick thinking of his two children, Ruby (9) and Jake (6), and a concerned passer-by, that saved John's life after he went into anaphylactic shock and lost consciousness at the wheel.

Had he been driving at the time, the consequences don't bear thinking about. But, in what a colleague here described as a "perfect storm of good", the car was stopped at traffic lights; a friendly stranger came to the frightened children's aid, and the paramedics arrived on time, demonstrating a society taking care of itself.

And afterwards, in a further positive move, the children's Gilnahirk primary school headmaster rang this newspaper to see if his pupils could get some greater acknowledgement of their courage and presence of mind.

Newspapers get calls about good deeds and report them more often that you'd think. Yet I know quite a few intelligent, upstanding people who no longer read, watch or listen to the news, due to what they perceive is the predominance of depressing stories.

They were the very ones glued to the property pages during the boom years, who wouldn't have missed drive-time radio shows on the way home from work.

But when the news is full of the latest sectarian squabbling at Stormont, racist attacks and slaughter in Syria, the inclination to reach for a CD or to switch on the iPod is understandable.

The cold, hard fact is that conflict and adversity make headlines more often than charitable acts.

So when Jihadi John cuts the head off a Westerner in the Iraqi sand, or when teenager Alice Gross disappears from a London towpath, evil and fear make front-page news. Then there are what seems to be a constant supply of stomach-churning stories of animal cruelty: only this week we read how family pet Fergie was left with horrendous burns after attackers poured acid over his back near his family's home in Newcastle, Co Down.

Many of us can't bear to read the details but we are inexorably drawn to these stories, more so than, perhaps, an interview with someone who claims she physically sees angels every day, trying to guide us to do the right thing.

But if you accept that evil exists, and whether you are a believer or not, it follows that there is a force of good in the world too.

And just as evil does not present itself as red-horned demon whispering in one's ear, goodness doesn't literally take the shape of a celestial being urging an act of kindness or forgiveness.

When the late Joan Rivers squawked that Palestinians deserved to die and that they started the Arab-Israeli conflict, she made worldwide headlines and was roundly condemned as an evil racist.

Yet her quiet volunteer work for the God's Love We Deliver organisation for more than 25 years, delivering meals to the house-bound from all castes and creeds, went largely unreported.

The legendary comedienne would bring her privileged grandson Cooper with her on deliveries every Thanksgiving Day to teach him the importance of helping people.

I was glad to see screenwriter Adam Horowitz, who penned the hit TV drama Lost, pointing out after Joan's death: "The over-riding theme I saw on Twitter from Palestinians was that they wished her peace even though she said hateful things about them." On the other hand, I was disheartened to read certain media commentators writing that they could not forgive the Rev Ian Paisley for the bigoted rabble-rousing of his younger days, despite his change of heart towards the end of his life. (How short-sighted is that, given how he forgave the representatives of the people who caused so much suffering in his community and in the whole of Northern Ireland, to the extent he would share power with them.)

Again, it's a case of the negative pulling the reader/onlooker.

I once did an interview with a mystic who was reluctant to be drawn on my persistent questions on the concept of fallen angels and the battle between good and evil.

It was only after much thought I realised that she is so infused with love and positivity, she simply does not want to give, what Margaret Thatcher called "the oxygen of publicity", to negative elements.

That may sound saccharine, but a very well qualified psychologist and counsellor recently explained to me how negative people and actions get "a charge" from the attention they demand from the good or the ordinary Joe Soap. She counsels anyone under verbal attack to respond with "Ah sure, maybe you're right," rather than a defensive wailing match. To take the sting out it, as such.

All the angry of the world, the sociopaths and the psychopaths, hate to be ignored. We wouldn't be doing our jobs as journalists if we did so but I like to think journalists also try to give commensurate attention to the good doers – not to be confused with the goody-two-shoes eating the altar rails and being nasty at home, or the tax-wise celebrities leaking news of their huge charity donations for extra Brownie points.

A case in point is the FEDs – a Belfast fitness trainer and a visually-impaired former drug addict going to primary schools under their banner 'Force, Energy and Direction', to bring anti-drugs awareness to children.

Almost blind from a drug overdose in his youth, Mark McClure could easily have become embittered and turned his back on life.

But an unlikely looking 'angel' in the form of former boxing and footballing champion Bill Laverty saw a spark for good within the Newtownards man, coaxed him into the boxing ring to get his confidence back, and then into schools to deliver their crucially important message.

Another real force for good I met recently is Diane McCaughan, a mother-of-two from Bangor with incurable cancer, who is determined to get out to watch our Runher Titanic Race, to support the runners for various charities. You may have read my interview with this remarkable lady in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph.

Diane had trained to run the 10k race before her harsh chemotherapy treatments put paid to that. Like ovarian awareness campaigner Una Crudden, who I'm sorry to say isn't up to an interview at the moment, Diane showed compassion for fellow sufferers I told her about, but not a trace of self-pity. Another recent interviewee of mine is full-time carer Samatha Hayes from Dundonald, who bought a miniature Falabella horse, Summer, for her autistic son Bradley, and after seeing the beneficial effects the little animal had on him, offered Summer, without charge, as a 'therapy horse' to the Children's Hospice and other children's charities across Northern Ireland.

Like the famous cat Oscar, who curled up with the dying in a New England nursing home, Summer is drawn inexplicably to disabled and life-limited children, gently laying her head in their laps or, as in one case last year, on the bed of a dying little boy to comfort him.

And then there are all those stories about how the public rallies to help animals injured in cruel attacks. Within days if the blaze at the Manchester Dogs' Home, people had donated £1m to help the rescued animals. Locally, too, help pours in for pets hurt by thugs.

In the midst of all the trouble and turmoil happening nowadays, these stories remind us that the world and its people are by and large good.

So maybe try smiling at the next jaded stranger or disappointed immigrant face you see in the shop or on the street, and spread a little of that good around. It can't hurt.

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