The entire world is still reeling from the ghastly events in Paris, the downing of a Russian plane filled with tourists, the double suicide attack in Beirut. Here in the United States, people have not forgotten Boston. At least, many of us refuse to.
Over the weekend on Facebook, profile pictures lit up with the rouge-blanc-bleu stripe in solidarity with the French. I joined in. Along with the colors came the loud cries for liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity), a motto among many over the centuries, that France has become identified with. The likes of Robespierre would be proud. Although there had not been as much debate over the first two components, after all, one ensures the other, the third, fraternité, has been fraught with back and forth arguments and detractors. Brotherhood implies the greater good, collective bargaining, a moral imperative, inclusive as opposed to exclusionary, creating communities. It also tends to rise when the need to unite for a common foe exists. In this setting, it becomes, “Fraternité, ou la Mort!” (Fraternity or Death!).
There have been endless cries for freedom. We listen. We help to ensure it. We in the Western World have enjoyed a lot of freedoms that we take for granted. Everything we see and do from the time we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep on a bed we call our own, is a result of this hard-fought freedom.
There are loud cries for equality in government, at home, at work, the greater community. Race, Color, Ancestry or National Origin, Sexual Orientation, Marriage Equality, to name a few. We have to grapple with a slew of issues, even the exaggerations, abuses, and even slanted interpretations of both the privileged and the discriminated. Slowly but surely, we will reach the equilibrium.
Take a look at our own backyards and there is not a lot of brotherhood. We don’t treat one another with respect often enough. We don’t teach our children to be mindful individuals so that one day, they will be mindful adults. We see many who will not hesitate to litter, waste valuable resources like water and energy, speak loudly in enclosed spaces, elbow and jostle through the crowds— all because? Because we can! And we feel we have to exert our individual rights to do as we please. We are so entitled. We forget that indeed we are free to do as we please in so long as it does not harm others and that our acts do not prevent others from enjoying the same freedoms we are enjoying.
We are too blinded by our obsession with individual liberties that we can’t see beyond the tip of our noses. We can’t have a decent conversation about guns because some people feel their civil liberties would be trampled on? In the meantime, people are dying from the consequences of our lack of action and millions of automatic weapons are scattered in an urban populace. We can’t find a way to get the homeless off our city streets so they can live like human beings on our dime because they don’t deserve it? (And no, it’s not right to use the city streets as your toilet. But where would you go if there was nowhere to do your bare necessities?) We can’t have universal health care because people have to earn it while other first world countries provide it as a human right? Same goes for our children’s education.
The bombing in Paris will rile up the anti-immigration advocates. They will treat this as validation of their beliefs. But, really, this has been the failure of our systems to provide the timely solutions to this refugee crisis we have watched unfolding for all these years. And no one can claim clean hands from this sad failure of policy and execution.
When we visited Japan in October, we made sure to take the time to see Hiroshima. The city has suffered unspeakable devastation in World War II 70 years ago. And it has been reborn. There are a few ruins preserved as memorials and the museum rivals the Holocaust Museum in Warsaw. We met a man stationed at the base of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. He had lots of videos and photo albums of the horrific day. His mother, in her nineties, is a survivor of the atomic bomb blast. She has suffered various health problems from it but she lived well into her nineties in spite of it. This man has made a commitment to tell his mother’s story so that the world will not forget. He wants to tell the world that there are no winners in war, especially nuclear war.
We cannot allow the young and future generations to forget how inhuman we can be. How we can be the worst tormentors. How we are capable of the most vile unspeakable abuses. We need to unite and be an even greater global force many times over than what we are facing. Can we spare some of our individual freedoms for now to make this possible? For the greater good? Can we be kins long enough to overwhelm this gigantic pustule that’s been pulsating and enlarging over in the middle east, threatening to spew its putrid doctrines to contaminate the rest of the world?
This post was inspired after having read Gianpiero Petriglieri’s article on HBR: After Paris, We Need More Fellowship, Not More Leadership.
- Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over Border Security, Forum, Tuesday, November 17, 2015
- In Attack’s Wake, France Grapples With What It Means To Be French, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NPR, Monday, November 16, 2015
- After Paris Attacks, Vilifying Refugees, NYTimes.com, November 17, 2017