The Paris Conundrum
My husband and I had just left our hotel to go to dinner. We felt excited being in Paris again and couldn’t wait for the 3 day weekend ahead.
We turned right onto the street where our restaurant, Le Richer, was about a quarter of a mile ahead. After a minute or so I noticed a big sea of black heading straight toward us. It was a group of rioters: darkly clothed and faces masked.
They were throwing trash cans, screaming, and getting each other pumped up. My instinct was to record the situation but my husband (who’s lived in Europe before) said, “If you acknowledge them with any kind of attention you’ll stand out and this could escalate. Just walk by as if nothing is happening.”
So I followed closely behind him and as the wave of rioters began to hit us we saw the entrance to our restaurant and slipped inside. The wave crashed by as we watched through the window. People throwing things, jumping over trash cans strewn about, and yelling. After the wave passed, a patrol of about 30 policemen in masks, shields, and batons at the ready followed, guiding the rioters towards the city center. Shortly after that 18 police vans filled with cops zoomed past.
I immediately thought of crowd psychology. A group of people can do wonderful empowering things together but there’s also a darker side which can occur. In mobs, people no longer feel personal responsibility for “a collective action” and feel more anonymous being in a big crowd.
“Belonging to a group makes people more likely to harm others outside the group (Science Daily).”
My husband was right in telling us to stay low and not draw attention to ourselves. When a mob has an “us” against “them” mentality your chances of being safe diminish.
This kind of psychology applies to sports teams, political parties, and other group activities. This “mob” mentality can especially be applied to our political atmosphere in the last year.
We Need Ethical Leadership
The next evening, our good friends who have lived in Paris for quite some time shared with us their thoughts, over dinner, after I asked them what it was like living there.
They love the city but named some of their concerns. One being a time where our friend attempted to rescue two women being attacked by a group of men. He needed someone else to step up and help but no one did. His injuries weren’t life threatening but his faith in people all but disappeared.
This made me wonder what’s caused this shift in humanity. There are obviously an abundance of factors at play. But what about leadership?
Historically we’ve seen the difference a good vs bad leader makes in a society.
Poverty, lack of morality, and weakness of spirit are symptoms. Symptoms of a deeper issue. True leadership won’t change every societal ill but I realized the severe lack of it.
“More than ever, our cities need ethical leadership – good governance, transparency, public trust building and fairness. They need ethically based planning to deal with the complex challenges facing our communities. This depends on our willingness to tackle the tough questions around sustainability, resilience, economic vibrancy and inclusiveness.” – The Ethical City: An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Brendan Barrett
An Era Gone By
Seeing the sadness, fear, and discouragement among the people was a stark contrast of the image one typically has.
Of course Paris is a beautiful, historic city with amazing food and culture. But it’s not the Paris you’d expect from the early 1920’s. It’s overcrowded with tourists and very expensive.
In the 1920’s, Paris thrived because of the artistic refuge it provided. Writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald walked inspired among its streets. No longer is this the case.
Travel broadens your perspective and adds different dimensions to your thoughts. My compassion and depth of understanding deepened in this particular experience. Taking the time to observe and soak in the health of a city or people changes your heart.
I challenge you to create an opportunity to travel in the next month. Whether it’s going to a new city 30 minutes away or booking that flight to Europe. Traveling is worth it!