A piece of my mind: 10 lessons learnt from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris

1. ACCIDENTS HAPPEN Accidents do happen. That's why they are called accidents in the first place! But when they do, how do we deal with them? What is our reaction? Is it a concerted effort or an indifferent one? And by the way, when you have a country that never learns from its mistakes, like we do here in Ghana, with a typical example being our flooding problem, that flooding is not an accident but the result of our own failure to think and act in the right ways...


1. ACCIDENTS HAPPEN

Accidents do happen. That's why they are called accidents in the first place! But when they do, how do we deal with them? What is our reaction? Is it a concerted effort or an indifferent one? And by the way, when you have a country that never learns from its mistakes, like we do here in Ghana, with a typical example being our flooding problem, that flooding is not an accident but the result of our own failure to think and act in the right ways. Period!

2. COURAGE AND PROFESSIONALISM

These were the two words French president Emmanuel Macron used to describe the Parisian sapeurs pompiers, the fire service. With over 400 of them at work pumping water from the Seine river in boats, flying water some 300 feet into the air and even risking their lives at some point, the Paris fire service department undoubtedly showed courage and professionalism. Do we show same in our daily dealings, especially as citizens of this blessed country? Are we willing to defend what is ours rather than join the pillagers to loot and destroy the system? Here were true citizens fighting the fire to defend a unique edifice, an eight-hundred-and-fifty-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site. Can we do same for Mother Ghana?

3. ACCEPTING CRITICISM

Despite all its great work, the Paris Fire Service Department has also come under some fire for apparently responding a little late to calls concerning the fire - but better late than never, we say! The Chief of that department has defended his team, but the fire service women and men have also accepted the viewpoints of Parisians and other citizens without getting acrimonious. This is something most of our leaders in Ghana sorely lack and could take a cue from. You give them some advice or criticise them and, immediately, you are branded as being against them. Interestingly, when you do same to their opposition, that is fine - then you are being a good citizen. These double standards are part of why our development as a country has been so stagnant. This is another area where we could learn a thing or two from the Parisian firefighters.

4. KNOW WHEN NOT TO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS AND WHEN NOT TO ACT LIKE A KNOW-IT-ALL

We all know the American president and how he likes to swagger. But yesterday, while reacting to the scenes unfolding in Paris, he goofed unpardonably by arrogantly suggesting that flying water tankers ought to be used to tame the fire. As it turns out such a move, per the fire department, would have been unsafe, for any flying carrier would have found it incredibly difficult not only to fly in such thin air but also to drop its contents at the exact spot. Additionally, such a move would likely have caused the entire cathedral's structure to cave in, which, in turn, could have affected the structural integrity of nearby buildings. An uninformed reaction, perhaps, and maybe that slip of tongue, which some Frenchmen and women felt was insulting, could have been prevented by Trump through one: simply expressing his best wishes for the people of France without trying to tell them what to do; or two, by seeking advice from someone within the fire service system in the United States. I'm sure his Tweet could have waited a few minutes longer and that could have averted some major anger directed at him. Know when to talk and when to keep quiet. For your own sake, of course!

5. TENACITY & A PERSEVERING SPIRIT

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the Notre Dame after a devastating fire gutted the famous cathedral last night. Speaking in the shadow of the 850-year-old building just hours after its roof caved in, Macron told the world's assembled press that a national fundraising campaign to restore it would be launched today. The lesson? We are never to give up on our individual pursuits to be the best we can, and we should never let go of our attempts at making Ghana the very best we can. 3ses3 y3 nyinara boa ma Ghana fa nintoma pa fra!

6. HOPE

Smoke was seen around the altar inside the Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday evening. Miraculously, the cross and altar had managed to survive the inferno. Though some of the treasures of the Gothic-era cathedral were lost in the conflagration, Christ’s Crown of Thorns was salvaged by a brave priest who insisted on assisting firefighters. All three of Notre Dame’s rose windows also survived the blaze. Says Robert Hardman, one of the first witnesses who entered the Notre Dame after the fire had been doused, “I walked through the gutted cathedral… then the crucifix shone from what remained of the altar, a symbol of defiance in the gloom…” Even after devastation, doom and gloom, we must always remember that there always is a silver lining for every dark cloud. Let's be hopeful as a people. Even from the ashes we can rise, like the proverbial phoenix, to do great things. As a people, that is a signal that we can still make something out of our very desperate situation.

7. IGNORE THE DETRACTORS

In a shocking twist, a poster of the blazing cathedral appeared online accompanied by the words, “Have a good day.” This, said to have been created by the ISIS-affiliated Al-Muntasir group according to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, was aimed at taunting the French as it described what was happening as “retribution” and “punishment.” Do you see what I am driving at? Some people will simply hate your guts and wish you ill. Should you be bothered by that? No. Do not waste your time on negative energy. Avert any attempts at harming you as well as you can, yes; but oftentimes such acts are no more than distractions which, if you pay too much attention to, will take you away from your goals. Know when to treat with justifiable contempt what ought to be ignored.

8. NOBODY, AND NO COUNTRY, IS AN ISLAND

The French president committed to rebuilding the cathedral - with help from the international community. He also called on what he refers to as "the world's greatest talents" to help in the work to be done. The lesson therein? We all need help, even countries as advanced as France. I have always been against our politicians going about pan in hand and asking for money to do this or that, most of which often is not done well anyway. We even need to supplement our national budget year in and year out with foreign funding. That is why I am all for a GHANA BEYOND AID agenda. But does this mantra really mean we shall not have the need for other members of the international community? No! We shall always need some help and we should be humble enough to accept it when need be. But that does not also mean we should maintain this mediocre, second-class, crass attitude of being international mendicants perpetually!

9. CHARITY AND HAVING YOUR COUNTRY AT HEART

The last time I checked, a drive to rebuild the cathedral had already yielded more than 600 million Euros in donations. France’s richest man, billionaire business magnate, investor and art collector, Bernard Arnault, has pledged a 100 million Euros to help rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral as Macron launched a fundraising campaign to restore the building to its former glory. I ask: if, God forbid, same were to happen in Ghana, what would be the reaction of the captains of industry and people of great wealth? Would we be able to set aside our political differences and pool our resources to aid Mother Ghana?

10. MOVE ON

Disaster sometimes strikes in life – like it did at the Notre Dame cathedral. Does that mean we should fold our arms and not attempt making the giant strides we know we can, simply because something could go wrong? As Mark Zuckerberg says, “The biggest risk is not taking any risks. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Again, as another saying encourages, “Fall seven times and stand up eight.” Sad as what happened to the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is, it gives us a lot to ponder. My heart goes out to the people of France and I wish them well as they mourn their loss and work toward restoration.

Vive la France!

By: Benjamin Akakpo (Host of the Executive Breakfast Show on Class 91.3 FM)



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