On 26 May 2018, Mamoudou Gassama, an immigrant from Mali, was strolling along a road in Paris to watch a football game, when he noticed a four-year-old child dangling from a balcony four floors up. Lots of people were yelling, pointing and watching. Mamoudou didn’t join them. Instead, he sprang on to the first balcony and climbed up. In 30 seconds he reached the child and pulled him to safety.
This spontaneous act earned Mamoudou a trip to the Elysee Palace, an interview with Emmanuel Macron, and a job in the French fire service. It also earned him the admiration of millions around the world.
Every now and again, life bowls up an experience that tests what sort of a person we are. These defining moments need not involve a decision whether to scale a high-rise building to rescue a child. It can be finding a wallet and deciding what to do with it. It can be choosing to honour your wedding ring at an office party. It can be in your reaction to a business crisis.
In the musical Les Miserables, the central character, Jean Valjean, agonises whether to allow an innocent man to go to jail instead of him. It is a moment that tests him, and so he sings ‘Who am I?’ Finally, he declares he is the guilty one, he is the one to be arrested, he is prisoner 24601.
However, Jean Valjean revealed more than this. He revealed he was a man of justice and a man of honour.
Defining moments prod and probe us. They test who we are and what we’re like. How do we react to the photocopier running out of paper? How do react to an angry outburst? How do we react to a major win?
Each day presents us with a myriad number of choices. Each of these choices is a defining moment. We can decide to be precious, rude, generous or truthful. It is the aggregation of these relatively small decisions that define who we are.
So – you may not have been able to climb the outside wall of a high-rise building, but you can pick up the phone and say something to someone that saves them from sorrow.