The dust is beginning to settle following the attacks in Paris, as moments of shock have turned to hours and days of grief and contemplation. Our disbelief has turned to a variety of emotions: sadness, frustration, and even anger. In the aftermath we are caught between the struggle to do something meaningful and to return to whatever we call “normal” these days. After all, there are football games, upcoming holiday events, and school activities that go on. We don’t need to struggle with our nagging conscience that we can’t, or shouldn’t, engage in “fun” things while others mourn deeply for those lives lost in the attacks. We need to carry on; we need to engage, participate, and support the very things that define our communities, our countries, our lives. Our efforts to carry on do not replace our compassion; they strengthen it.
I have noticed, though, that there is a division among some when it comes to how we need to react now that the threat is greater than ever in cities all over the globe. Certainly, there seems to be no “safe place” anymore. We are all vulnerable to senseless acts of terrorism. I don’t think anybody disagrees with that.
These arguments and calls for action in how we respond internationally spark strong debates and judgments in leadership, retaliation, and policy. I get that there is a place for that. Discussion is both valid and necessary for us to evolve and work toward macro solutions that benefit not only the United States and France, but all nations – and all people – throughout the world.
These arguments and debates, however, do not negate a call for compassion, for peace, faith, hope, and love. We cannot condemn an impromptu performance of a pianist playing “Imagine” outside of the Bataclan because it doesn’t “solve” the problem, just as we cannot mock or judge individuals for posting symbols of support or peace on social media sites.
The two do not cancel out each other, simply because our individual efforts serve a different role than the broader, more rhetorical discussions about what is wrong with our society and what should be done at a national or even international level.
My focus is on compassion and what I, you, and we can do to strengthen our communities right now. No, it’s not going to change anything about the debates last night or who might be vying to run our country in 2017. And it isn’t going to shift our international policies on terrorism or how we – or anybody else – should respond. What compassion will do is strengthen our own communities and unite us in ways that we desperately need to be united.
I see three stages of how we can provide compassion and help others in and beyond our communities.
In the first stage, we offer a visual demonstration of support at the individual or personal level. We do this in many ways, and not one of them should be considered superficial or “trendy.” As nations paint their landmarks in blue, white, and red to show support, so do individuals paint their profile pictures and cover photos with solidarity. How does this help? I have seen individuals directly affected take solace in such support. This very minimal act of helping makes a difference, even if we are not aware of it on an individual and personal level.
In the second stage, we take action in our communities to make it a better place for everyone. We pick up trash, we check in on neighbors, we attend community events. We serve as models for our children, for others, in how we live our lives beyond fear, how we demonstrate courage in our actions and strengthen our foundations in peace and unity. We abandon judgment and embrace diversity; we stand united among the pillars of peace, faith, hope, love. What brings us there – our individual beliefs, religions, backgrounds, cultures – makes no difference. We recognize these pillars as universal structures of strength. And in so doing, we, as individuals, become pillars of strength and carriers of each: peace, faith, hope, and love.
Finally, in the third stage, we initiate programs to heal, to protect, to serve. We create opportunities for greater action through camaraderie and unity. We become integral players in the development of these initiatives. This might be through the development of community sports and recreation programs, school-based activities and events, church-centered missions and drives, and larger initiatives that create products or provide services for others in need.
We can debate all we want about the macro policies about war, government, guns, and international relations. We can question why we feel more inclined to react to tragedies in France than we might for tragedies in other places such as Beirut or Syria. We can spar with friends, defending and offending (although I wish we wouldn’t) along the way.
But we can also show compassion first, and throughout, our debates and discussions. If we do this at every level of how we respond, either on a micro or macro level, we can effect greater change in ways that matter most to our local communities, as well as to the individuals comprising our immediate worlds.
Begin with compassion. Become a pillar of peace, faith, hope, and love. Let these be the foundation of all we do now, and tomorrow.