Watching the fire that engulfed Notre-Dame, one of the world’s artistic and spiritual treasures, set off something inside me that is akin to a type of sadness that comes with a great loss. I am certain the world collectively felt the same heart-wrenching pain as they watched Notre-Dame’s spire collapse. Notre-Dame is one of the finest Gothic architectural works in the world. I still remember when I visited it in the aughts. Because it is a great symbol, a living embodiment of humanity’s creative ability, and our connection to a higher sense of meaning, its damage is felt immensely. When a work of art and beauty is destroyed, that which gives us a sense of meaning is imperiled. As someone who is trained in Architecture, I have been thinking deeply about what great art and architecture provides all of us. As a businesswoman, I wonder what business could do to mitigate losses such as the one we collectively witnessed in Paris.
There are efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame’s spire and roof, the speed of which is commendable. But I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what such a loss can awaken within us. We are currently in an era that has embraced a sense of materialism and self-centeredness that, in turn, can produce nihilism. This is a product of the disconnect between the lives we are leading and a deeper sense of purpose that gives our lives meaning. Our architectural and artistic heritage provides us with a spiritual connection, not necessarily religious in nature, that we yearn for. When we do not have this, we begin to feel that life is meaningless. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
Every day we are building a legacy, though we may not be aware of it. Businesses need to remember that the legacy they are creating is not solely driven by our contributions to national GDP. Instead, it is what we are collectively remembered for in terms of larger contributions to society. If you run a business, ask yourself if what you are producing gives your team a sense of purpose in its creation? Does it contribute to the betterment of your community, the country, or the world as a whole? Does what you produce or deliver provide this deeper connection that we all require?
A friend of mine brought up a great perspective: “The fire at Notre-Dame tells us that we can’t take anything for granted.” That definitely applies to our business world and the world of work. The business world benefits from consistent change. We are always finding ways to stay ahead of the trends in order to remain competitive in our industries. Yet, we can stand to benefit from understanding the significance of the timelessness of Notre-Dame. Such works of art and architecture nurture the human spirit, reflecting the magnanimity within our beings’ own magnificence. As we admire structures such as Notre-Dame, awestruck with its magnificence, time seems to stop. This brings us the much needed reprieve from our constant mind-chatter and busyness so that we can ease into the present moment. All aspects of our lives are enriched the more of these moments we have on our life’s journey.
Structures such as Notre-Dame bridge the past to the present. They offer us a connection to a sublime that we long for. This provides us with that feeling of awe we experience in front of a gorgeous cathedral or a majestic mountain range. That we are capable of creating such monuments and works of art provide us with a collective sense of meaning. We sense the higher purpose they reflect. This higher purpose is what makes them timeless and what allows us, nearly a millennium later, to marvel at them and to feel a sense of pride in their creation.
While Notre-Dame will be rebuilt, we need to also seriously think about the work we are creating in this era. The legacies we are building on a daily basis are important. We need to make certain they imbue future generations to emulate our contributions to the world. We can only do this though if what we are working toward has meaning and gives our life meaning and purpose.
As summer approaches, I urge you to take time to enjoy and connect with the great art and architecture that surrounds us all. If Notre-Dame has taught us anything, it is that we can’t take them for granted. What these artistic treasures offer us is their ability to spread joy within us and to help us connect to the beauty in our world. This, in turn, inspires us and allows us to tap into the purpose of our existence.