I don’t think there is anyone reading this who will not have seen the pictures of the fire which damaged so much of the Notre Dame Cathedral in recent weeks. More particularly, I would expect that most readers will also have firm views on whether it should be restored, whether it is right that so much was gifted in such a short space of time and what the energetic and financial response to this crisis rather than say, global warming, homelessness or world hunger says about the state of the world.
There is no doubt Notre Dame de Paris resonates with a great many people across the world. It was top of the list for school trips, romantic breaks or family holidays and even for most sports tourists taking in the beauty and grandeur before or after the trip to Parc des Princes or latterly Stade de France.
There is an iconic story told about the building of Notre Dame which always strikes a chord when I tell or remind people of it. The building work started in 1160 and was always going to take 100 years to complete. It is said that when it was being built the Bishop who commissioned it was touring the site. He stopped by a stone mason and asked “what are you doing here?” The reply was “I’m shaping some stones, Your Grace.” He continued on his way and shortly after he stopped beside another mason. Again he asked “what are you doing here?” The reply this tIme was “I’m building a Cathedral, Your Grace”
The same work, the same effort, the same tools but such a different outlook. Notre Dame stands for so much that is noble in human nature. The idea of the Bishop starting a project he knows he will never see completed, the pride of the stonemason in being able, through his hard work and craft, to contribute to a greater vision and the idea of so many different skills and people coming together for a greater purpose. These all speak to the human soul and so Notre Dame spread her influence across Europe and the world. Of course, it can also be suggested that this resonance lies in her title and place; that she is the embodiment of the feminine influence in Christianity and this powerful balance is what resonates with us ( but that is another days work!)
Inevitably there is a potential downside to all this. Notre Dame is a monument to so much that is good in humanity but when the symbol becomes more important than that which it symbolises we lose touch with the underlying power. No matter how beautiful the stone works, the carvings, the sheer awe it inspired it can never overshadow the beauty of the idea, the vision. Too often we cling to the symbol rather than the underlying energy and vision. The monument gets fixed in time, place and space and traps the very energy that created it and needs to circulate. Without that circulation and movement it collapses in on itself and it stagnates or explodes under the pressure.
So I invite you to think about your company, project or even your own life. How much do you cling to a departmental structure or a strategy which has outlived its time? How willing are you to let go of the monuments to your vision whether the job title, big mortgage, big departments, outdated products in order to embrace the new and set a new vision.
Maybe the fire on Notre Dame was a reminder to review the symbols and monuments in our own lives and see which ones have had their time, which need to be replaced with the outcome of a new, shared vision or dream. Are we too stuck, maybe in our magnificence, but still stuck?
Maybe the world would be better served by a new monument to Our Lady of Paris or to humanity, if you prefer, whether it is a new effort to relieve hunger or homelessness. Would tens of thousands of new homes be a better monument to our collective values and endeavours? While others ponder that question perhaps we could all take time to see what we wish to create ourselves or with our team or family over the coming years. What monument, what new vision should we seek to realise over the coming years rather than pouring our energy into maintaining the old.