“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers
There’s been a lot to be scared about in the news over the last few days. Violent events in France have led to the death of 17 people, 20 when you count the perpetrators who were themselves killed by French police. French society is shaken to the core, Jewish communities feel targeted and vulnerable, and Muslim communities face discrimination and retaliation from those who seek to judge an entire faith on the brutal actions of a small minority who have twisted, distorted beliefs.
So much to be sad about, scared about, sick about.
Look for the helpers.
That’s what I did, when I started to read the news accounts of the recent violence. And sure enough, there was a helper, and his story left me with a feeling of hope and comfort.
Lassana Bathily, a 24 year old Muslim man from Mali, living and working in France. He was employed at the Kosher supermarket where the second of two hostage situations occurred. When an armed man broke into the store, Lassana helped a number of customers, including a baby, into a freezer to hide. He then left the shop via a service elevator to get help. He was initially arrested by police who believe he was working with the suspects. Once released, he gave police details of the shop layout, and when the hostage situation finished, he was hailed as a hero.
But the power of Lassana’s story lies in the detail. Here was a Muslim man, employed by a Jewish business, in a kosher supermarket. When danger struck, his first action was to get his (presumably Jewish) customers to a place of safety. He was first arrested by the police, then ended up helping them.
In a week where Faith was used to justify violence, to select targets for violence, what stood out for me was that a man acted with a lot of courage to save the lives of others. Their common humanity was more important than the differences in their belief and culture.
And that is exactly the way things should be.