It’s been a week since the tragic events in Paris. A week in which much has happened and many questions have been asked.  As well as the over-riding sense of sympathy for those directly involved, and families who lost loved ones, there has been a sense of trying to understand why and how it happened.

Earlier in the week I learned of the heroic efforts of a barman, Safar, who saved the lives of two injured women by pulling them into a basement during the shooting at the Casa Nostra restaurant. I also watched as the tribute video made by Antoine Leiris, whose wife was one of the 89 killed in the Bataclan theatre, was shared thousands of time on facebook with the message “ I will not give you the gift of my hatred.”  Just two stories that connected with me and made me ask questions of myself, my compassion, my character…

A few years ago I had dinner with one of the survivors of the7/7 London Underground bombing. He described how he had used his tie and his belt as tourniquets for a wounded man in his carriage, actions which contributed to his survival, and how a few hours later, sat at his desk,  he broke down as the reality of what had occurred sank in. For years he questioned the events, what might have been and the small margins and decisions that made the difference between his situation and the other guy.  He shared the story of one of the survivors of the Sept 11 2001 attack in New York. Marissa Panigrosso.  When the first plane hit, she immediately got up from her desk and made her descent down the 98 flights of stairs to safety.  When she left she described how many colleagues were still at their desks, assuming it would all be ok, staying calm and carrying on… A lady walking with her stopped to go back for her baby pictures on her desk. She sadly didn’t make it.

Sometimes, as an observer, it is hard to make sense of the complexities of the situation. As is often the case, as these tragedies unfold a number of individual stories emerge that give us something to cling on to. We may not understand everything that is happening but we can relate to an individual, we can make a connection, in some cases to put ourselves in their shoes and be humbled and inspired, in other cases to think about how we would act.

Stories are all around us. We need not face terror or life threatening situations but we can identify lessons from all kinds of shared experience.  Stories may be one of the oldest forms of human communication but the power they hold and the value they bring, to individuals, organisations and even nations is still there if we choose to listen to them.