Liberté, égalité, fraternité: when will we cure our obsession with self-destruct?

Today I’d intended to write about the never ending story that is breast cancer: discovery, treatment, reconstruction (or not), revision, reflection and resolve. Those things are, quite literally, close to my heart. But I can’t concentrate on the horrors of breast cancer because my mind has been consumed with the horrors of terrorism and my heart goes out to the people of Paris.

Credit: Skyrock.com

I’ve had two spells working in Paris. The first in the early 2000’s involved regular time in a grand office in the 10th Arrondissement. By day much of my time was spent at my desk, in meetings or running workshops somewhere inside the building. Arriving well before 9am, staying beyond 7pm and failing to stop for lunch would frequently prompt questions and jokes from my French colleagues. “Why do you English always work like donkeys? You are silly to work like this. The French way is far more civilised” they would say. As a guest in my colleagues’ country I couldn’t argue with this so would join them in the joking.

I quickly discovered that the French way was more civilised at every level. Coffee and pastries in a nearby patisserie before starting work, an hour or two for lunch in a local café and then home or more likely out for dinner by mid-evening and an opportunity to explore one of the capital’s many fine restaurants. Dinner, the pièce de résistance, presented an opportunity to partake in another leisurely meal carefully consumed so as to make the most of an evening with family or friends. My French colleagues savoured time with each other as much as they savoured the wine or the food. I didn’t need to be in Paris too long before I began to favour the French way too.

My second spell in Paris arose in the late 2000’s when I worked for France Telecom. Their offices lay just beyond the Periphique to the south of the capital but since that area was largely residential I spent my evenings in Montparnasse. The hotel was good for people-watching and the local cafes and restaurants were vibrant and welcoming. Theatre goers mingled with groups of work colleagues, families mingled with couples and local residents mingled with overseas visitors. The City of Light was a sensuous, sophisticated and sociable place to live, work and play.

Today the City of Light is shaken, sombre and trying to make sense of multiple acts of wanton violence, acts designed to kill, maim and terrorise innocent civilians during a typical Friday evening in central Paris. The faceless, nameless, shameless perpetrators no doubt believe they committed these acts in service of some greater cause, to right some deep-rooted wrong, or to demonstrate conviction to the will and way of whichever god they happen to subscribe to. Whatever the reason, the streets of the City of Light are once again stained with blood and innocent people lie dead or injured.

Modern humans evolved c.200,000 years ago and civilisation (such as it is) c. 6000 years ago. We claim to be the most intelligent species on Earth yet we appear to change at a glacial pace. Our ability to curb our most primitive, tribal and often superstitious belief systems, to learn from the mistakes of the past and fully embrace our diversity is questionable at best. Events like the one in Paris quickly become visible across the globe but look closer to home and you’ll find stories of cruelty, violence, bullying and abuse right on your doorstep.

Humanity seems destined to prove it is the most dangerous, spiteful and debased species that has ever inhabited the planet and Paris, sadly, is the most recent in a long line of atrocities. When will we learn and how many more 13/11’s, 9/11’s or 7/7’s must we endure before we finally cure our obsession with self-destruct?

Advertisements

It wasn’t an accident…

 

>Embed from Getty Images

 

Someone I used to work with died last week. We weren’t close and hadn’t kept in touch but it  was still sad and shocking to hear the news. He was young, super fit and healthy just a couple of years back when we worked together. A clean-living triathlete.

When I found out I thought maybe he’d been involved in an accident, some kind of traffic collision. In the city it’s one of the more common causes of premature death. Or maybe one of those completely out-of-the-blue heart conditions, the kind that take people during marathons and football games.  In the moment between hearing the news and hearing what happened, an accident is what I expected to hear.

It wasn’t an accident and what I’m about to say will sound strange. In spite of the trauma, an accident might have been easier.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma in July and spent the past few months in a hospice. Nine months from diagnosis to death. His world and that of his family undone in the space of three seasons; autumn, winter, spring. His wife and young daughter must be devastated and I can’t help thinking it’s really sad. Sad for him and sad for them. They’ll have some gruelling memories to deal with before the good ones find a way back in.

24 hours ago one of our news channels made a big deal of cancer survival rates. The report was positively beaming about 50% of people in England and Wales now living for ten years post-diagnosis. Cancer no longer needs to be seen as a death sentence is what the story said. The same story reported a one in two chance of living (dying) within 10 years of diagnosis as a vast improvement on the 1970’s position. Back then 24% could expect to live for 10 years.

News of a co-workers death from cancer in less than year just one day after this inappropriately upbeat national TV story seems hopelessly ironic. I don’t deny the numbers reflect some progress for the better, but I can’t shake the thought that creeping from 24 to 50% ten-year survival during the course of almost 45 years is extremely slow. Life threateningly slow. The kind of progress that earns a ‘must try harder’ comment on an end of term report.

It wasn’t an accident that we invented the large hadron collider, wi-fi, hybrid cars and protease inhibitors in the last 25 years. We verified the existence of dark matter and down-graded Pluto to a dwarf planet too. But when it comes to cancer we’re supposed to be pleased by a 50% ten-year survival statistic that’s taken 40+ years to achieve? It’s a statistic that means 50% of people, including my ex-colleague, still can’t expect to see their kids grow up, have kids of their own or spend time with their grandchildren.

Inhumanity: when a “cause” spawns horrific consequences

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

When I woke up this morning I was preoccupied by thoughts of my 9am hospital visit. My preoccupation lasted approximately three minutes because I quickly discovered that a young soldier was brutally hacked to death on the streets of London yesterday. He was ambushed in broad daylight not far from the largest military barracks in the capital and pictures of the perpetrators soaked in their victim’s blood are now all over the press. Various reports suggest the two attackers viciously stabbed the young man and decapitated him all the while encouraging members of the public to take photographs or film of this sickening event.

Whilst officials were desperately trying to play down the motives for this act of barbarism eye-witness statements and footage of the culprits ‘explaining’ themselves are crystal clear.  One witness said “They grabbed the guy towards the wall then stabbed him – stabbed him, stabbed him, cut his neck, and then dragged him into the middle of the road.  They dragged the poor guy – he was obviously dead, there was no way a human could take what they did to him.”

The poor guy was Drummer Lee Rigby,  a 25 year-old from the Royal Fusiliers. Tonight his two-year-old son no longer has a father.

No doubt when Drummer Rigby joined-up he realised becoming a soldier meant operating in war-zones and placing himself in situations fraught with danger.  No doubt his loved ones also realised the significant level of personal risk that went along with his career choice.  I suspect neither Drummer Rigby nor his family and friends expected he would be ambushed and hacked to death in London all in the name of a “cause.” 

Irrespective of your position on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Falklands, Uganda, the Niger Delta or any other troubled place on our very troubled planet, two wrongs never make a right.  Irrespective of your beliefs or religion, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhist, Sikhism, Hinduism, Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan or Wiccan, two wrongs never make a right.  Irrespective of your ethnicity, culture, class, origin or status, two wrongs never make a right.  We of all faiths, colours, religions, countries and castes would do well to make this our mantra.  We should ensure our children – let’s not forget the men who committed this crime are someone’s children – respect the sanctity of life, all life, even if it happens to be different to our own.

When a “cause” becomes so all-consuming that it permits one man to murder another, to boast about that wrongdoing and encourage others to do likewise we have slipped from humanity into inhumanity. As a mother and a peaceable citizen living in a country that is supposed to be “safe” I can only echo the words of the person who left these flowers for Drummer Rigby. I hope your suffering was brief and that you are at peace now.  I am disgusted that my child is growing up in a world so full of corruption and unnecessary violence. I am ashamed to call myself human when this kind of depravity exists in our world.