Liberty, equality, fraternity.

Reuters: Jason Reed

Last night the Sydney Opera House was lit up in the colours of the French flag to show our solidarity with the people of France in the wake of the violent attacks in Paris yesterday. The French flag was flown on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many other iconic buildings around the world were also lit in blue, white and red.

The Tricolour and the show of support for Paris made me think of France’s national motto: Liberty, equality, fraternity (liberté, égalité, fraternité).

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined liberty as being able to do anything that does not harm others; equality, in a judicial sense, as the law being the same for all, all citizens being equal in its eyes; and fraternity as being about community and harmony.

They are wonderful values to continue to embrace. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “Free societies like our own, like Australia’s, like France’s will not be cowed by terrorism. No matter how shocking.”

Sometimes the world IS shocking, with all the conflict and increasing episodes of terror. So how to live in a world where such terrible events happen?  With compassion. There are public battles on a grand scale. There are people’s own private battles. All we can do as individuals is to be kind. Because as the old saying goes, everyone is fighting a battle that you may know nothing about.

Horrific events such as yesterday’s serve to remind us that we really have no control over anything external. It’s very easy to feel helpless. but we can have control over ourselves. If we want to affect change in the world all we can really do is start with ourselves.

As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.” The idea is if individuals change how they think, they will change how they feel and what actions they take. And so the world itself will change. Well, it’s a starting point.

I was feeling particularly negative about the state of the world last Christmas, only 10 days after the siege in Sydney’s Martin Place where 18 people had been held hostage, resulting in the deaths of two people. The Christmas sermon at my local church reminded us that even when there is darkness, misery and terror in the world, we can still be surprised by joy. It made me feel a little better.

Surprised by joy. It’s an idea that I cling to in times like these. I am praying for the victims, their families, and for peace.

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