11 November 2018

Replacing absurd bank holidays with a celebration of the Human

Part of me wanted to listen to him – because I'm naturally curious about how speeches are articulated. But I wasn't in the mood. Not on that day, the day celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. I was on a stopover in Paris, on my way back from an umpteenth business trip to California. California was in flames. It was raining in Paris – Trump's helicopter supposedly hadn't been able to take off as a result. It was around noon on that 11th November 2018. French president Macron was about to deliver his speech. I purposefully sat in the airline lounge with my back facing the TV. A passenger unusually stood up and went to the TV to turn the volume up. There was no more escaping the story-telling.

Reading all the books Yuval Noah Harari has published to date has led me to see me things that humans do under a new light: in short, we tell ourselves stories about everything, be they fictional or not. Hearing the president’s speech in my back made me cringe: we just don't want to admit the uselessness of the First World War, how millions absurdly lost their lives, for no greater cause – if anything, because the Second World War still happened. In fact, why are we Frenchmen having a bank holiday on the 8th May, they day when Germany capitulated in 1945, and not on the 9th May, the day celebrating the European Union? What about all those religious holidays when an increasing proportion of citizens no longer believe in the corresponding faith or are believers of other religions (which I unabashedly consider as fictions)?

So I would suggest something different, easy to explain but perhaps not so easy to implement considering our well-established traditions: let’s replace all the current bank holidays with one day per month that celebrates what we are – human beings – irrespective of citizenship and short-term national(istic) story-telling. Those bank holidays could be purposefully be placed on the last Friday of each month for instance, instead of days crammed in May/June or November/December in France.

What would be the meaning of those new bank holidays? Well, what about celebrating the elderly or children, in other words old and young “human beings”. It doesn't matter if you don't have either in your family. As a scout in my early teens, I once brought food and candles to isolated elderly people during Christmas. There’s no real pride I can take from that, I was “forced” to be a scout. The point is that it doesn’t take much to seek opportunities to honour and help the elderly. Why do this? It doesn’t really matter what your own reasons are. It could be because it makes you feel happier inside. It could be because you feel obligated to respect your grandparents, for religious or humanist reasons. It could be that you’d rather focus on someone else’s needs than your own.

When it comes to “celebrating” children, one can also smile (not creepily please!) to them or make them laugh, especially those in orphanages or at the hospital.

What about another day celebrating all art forms, from writing to street art? Likewise it doesn’t have to be about praising a specific individual nor even someone from one’s own country, although that point could be open to debate, finding the trade-off between encouraging a better knowledge of one’s own language/culture versus reinforcing a misplaced nationalistic sentiment. That day could be one when public museums are free all over the country, in the manner of European Heritage Days.

We could come up with any kind of bank holiday which, in my humble opinion, would carry much more significance to a wider array of human beings. You may laugh at the suggestion but what about a day off for the “environment”. It wouldn’t be much in light of the drastic changes we absolutely need to make, but even picking up trash would set up an example to follow. Or what about a global “fix-it” day during which we try to repair all the little things that are broken, literally or symbolically, in our lives or at our neighbour’s house: a time to call that person we should really have called yesterday and tell them we love them; a moment to help fix the neighbour’s bike; an instant to get rid of all the junk we accumulate or to give away things we really don’t need anymore.

Yes, it’s very likely those ideas spring up to my mind because I wouldn’t mind being part of a single federation of countries that encompasses the entire planet (read why I am “not proud” to be French). The European Union could be the start of such a federation, if only nationalistic sentiments weren’t seemingly so powerful (Brexit, immigration fears, protection of one’s perceived cultural or language or regional identity, etc.). Thing is, symbols do play a compelling role in our imagination, even if I personally try to steer away from them and their associated conventions. So we might as well take advantage of those psychological effects to change the way we see ourselves and others – in the perhaps naive spirit of making this world a slightly better place.

What would be your suggestions for new bank holidays?