By now most of you will have seen the footage of Simon Sheikh collapsing at the Q&A desk as Sophie Mirabella looks on in disgust. (If not, you will find it here.) By now, many of you will have judged Sophie Mirabella and expressed your own disgust at her reaction.
Well, I watched the footage yesterday, four separate times, and I'm not proud at all of my reaction, either.
Because do you know what I did when I watched the video?
I laughed. Every single time.
I didn't laugh because I found it funny. It's not funny. I have fainted, and it's the most horrible feeling. I've also been on television several times, and the idea of fainting on live TV is absolutely horrendous. I laughed because that's what I always do when I'm nervous or feeling uncomfortable. I can't help it. It's an instinctive reaction.
Before you judge me, let me reassure you - I'm not one of those people who stand by and do nothing when someone needs assistance. I have called for an ambulance on three different occasions when I've seen strangers in trouble. I've assisted elderly people who've fallen in the street. I've helped get kids out of an overturned car (truly - I'm starting to sound like Tom Cruise here). But I also have a terrible problem with inappropriate reactions.
Take, for example, a memorial service for my late sister. She was a psychologist of some repute, and my parents set up a university scholarship in her honor after she died. At the ceremony to mark the establishment of the scholarship, I became completely distracted by the minor twitching of the eye of one of the speakers. Sitting in the very front row of the university hall, I began to laugh uncontrollably. It was a matter of months since my sister's death, the speech was deeply moving, and I was laughing myself stupid. My shoulders shook and tears began to leak from my eyes.
Matters rapidly became worse. The woman sitting behind me assumed (naturally) that I was grief stricken and crying, and laid a hand soothingly on my shoulder. This did me in. I was overcome with guilt, which made me even more uncomfortable, which made me laugh even more. I considered leaving the room but didn't want to disrespect the speaker even further. So I grabbed a handful of tissues, buried my face in them, and conntinued to heave until the proceedings drew to a close.
So the moral of the story is this: don't judge people on their reactions to emotive situations. It doesn't mean they're bad or unfeeling, it just means they're uncomfortable and human.
And if you ever see me laughing in a sad situation, do not lay your kind hand on my shoulder. Just pass me the tissues and let me be.