Marly Le Roi, FRANCE - Ministerial Advisor, Mayor
Interview made by Antoine de Fouchécourt in May 2018
Jean-Yves has been the mayor of a small city in the far suburbs of Paris called Marly-le-Roi since 2001. He had different high level jobs in the public administration and also gives classes in prestigious French universities.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Grow up. Grow up well, grow up quickly, grow up strong… and very early.
With whom would you like to have a coffee?
I would go with a stranger, to discover them.
If you could choose something that could be taught in every school in the world, what would it be?
That would be the story of civilisations. Because when you study the story of civilisations, you notice the unity of humans, you realise that beyond the apparent differences there is sort of a grid view of the great philosophies and spiritualities, and we realise that humans distinguish each other less from the questions they ask – which are the same everywhere - than by the answers they provide themselves, which are often much more similar than we might think or say.
To you, what’s the main characteristic that all human being have in common?
To be born a child. Because there isn’t a more beautiful spectacle than the birth of a child, because it is the expression of love, and the embodiment of hope.
To you, who is the happiest person on earth?
He or she who feels accomplished during their life. I am not going to cite a particular person, because that is meaningless. I think that what constitutes the happiness of a person is their capacity to feel accomplished and push themselves to the end.
If you were President of the US, what would your first reform be?
I don’t know if I would implement a reform, because the word ‘reform’ only seems to apply to the US itself. However, I think that the first responsibility of the President of the US is their responsibility at the international level. And so, I would try to do everything to advance the progress of peace, and in particular where it is the most difficult, where it is in a sense the womb – directly or indirectly - of all conflicts in the world, that is to say, the Middle East. That means basically that I would do just about the opposite of what Donald Trump is doing.
What do you need?
Time. Because it is the most precious commodity. It is the one of which we do not know the quantity that is given to us, it is the one that we consume every day, all of us, 24 objective hours, which are in reality felt differently by all in terms of subjectivity. So, what I need the most is time.
What would you do if we gave you 1 million dollars now?
I would really think about the best way to use it. I have not asked myself the question this morning, so I would think about it. I believe it isn’t bad to think. Including on these kinds of topics.
Which innovation, realistic or not, would greatly ease your day-to-day life?
One that would accelerate travel. In particular by removing all the phases in travel that are burdensome to us all. We are in a world which is extremely mobile, it’s an incredible opportunity that we have, but I know very little people who like airports, when we embark, disembark, etc., All those periods are necessary but are very tedious and take time. I think that what would accelerate travel would be well received by anyone.
Do you think your life is easier or more complicated than the life of your parents?
I think we live better. Then, does that mean that life is simpler, I have no clue, it certainly is more simple from a practical point of view, but it isn’t necessarily simpler from the viewpoint of one of today’s challenges, which is the necessity for individuals to constantly adapt to incessant changes. The world has changed more – France, for example, in a few decades, than in a few centuries – and it is often a very happy thing in many ways, it is obvious, we live longer, we live in better health, all the challenges today consist in elongating life expectancy in good health, we have an unprecedented capacity to access knowledge directly, so all of this is extremely positive obviously, we live in a level of comfort that has nothing to do with the level of the generations that preceded us. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that life is easier because the stress that comes with change, as felt by individuals, is even more so stressful because change is numerous, repetitive, varied and touches upon all parts of existence, so we live better and more easily, but as of whether life is more simple, in the common usage of the term, that is for each of us to answer for ourselves.
If you had to create a company, what would it be?
I think I would create a company specialising in managing human resources. Because I think it is at the heart of everything, and that learning how to manage human resources, from recruitment to licensing, and including training, giving second chances, the faculty of everyone to not be confined to a prescribed role, is a very fine project, and I think that everything that has to do with human resources is often not taken care of enough.
Can you draw something beautiful?
The answer is no. I pass. If you like I will draw a heart, in the air. Okay, I will draw a heart. Go on, while I try and draw a heart. I’m terrible at drawing, but here you go, this is a heart.
Oh, you get many hearts in your responses? Well obviously, because what is the principle guiding motive that we must wish between each other? It has to be love.
Can you sing something beautiful?
Listen, if I sang something, I would sing a song by Guy Béart that I like a lot called ‘I would like to change the colours of time’, change the colours of the world, the rising sun, the compass rose, the way my round dance will go, water from a tear and the whole ocean that grumbles. It’s a very beautiful song like all songs by Guy Béart, it’s a song of which the text is very poetic, which is quite easy to sing – see, I even managed to do it – and which is very beautiful, because I think it says in very simple terms what we all wish deep down: change the colours of the world.
Well I love singing. As much as I don’t know how to draw, I love singing. I think, besides, that singing does not hold enough importance today. I’ve known a time – not to play the role of the elderly, but – when we would turn on the radio in the morning, we would have 10 minutes of news for 15 minutes of song. Well now we have 10 minutes of news for 15 minutes of advertising, and while I see the logic behind it I don’t consider it a decisive progress, and more generally, it is indeed very rare that people sing, although singing - I think it was St Augustin who said, in the religious sphere – that singing was praying twice. But beyond even this sphere, to sing is to colour life with a form of lightness. One morning, a few years ago in Paris, I had a professional breakfast, and as always I arrived quite early because I like to walk in the city early in the morning. And I followed someone who was singing, imagine that. On top of that it was in a lovely place because it was in a garden of the royal palace, and it did me good, well of course it’s always pleasant to just follow someone who’s singing, above all it is quite a unique experience, and this man was going to a bookstore in which he was recognisably well known, and this allowed me, once he was gone, to talk with the store keeper about Colette – we were very close to where Colette used to live – and this bookstore keeper had known Colette as a child. So in singing, there’s always something, without even mentioning singing collectively, which is a magnificent thing. It is one of the most beautiful things that men and women can do together. A choir, or a rugby team, there’s nothing better.
What are you afraid of?
Of fear. I think you have to be fearful of fear, because fear, as I said, is anchored in each and every one of us, and you mustn’t deny it, but analyse it. In general, when you analyse fear, you conjure it, because firstly, fear feeds off of contradicting anxieties– you can’t at the same time be afraid of dying in the following second, and fear living bedridden between the ages of 85 and 105. It’s incompatible. The great philosophies have said, since Antiquity, something like this: you have to fear fear, but you have to fear it mostly in order to analyse and conjure it.
What is your dream?
A better world, as we all wish. Now, we don’t necessary all mean the same thing by this, but perhaps, once you have finished with 20 Questions to the World, you’ll contribute to giving us a better idea of what it could be.
Close your eyes, you are in 2100, what do you see?
It’s blurry, the answer is that it’s blurry.
If you had to write a book about the current world, what would be the title?
I’m going to be consistent, it would be ‘Let’s build a better world together’.
What does religion mean to you?
It’s the expression of a universal need that accompanies humanity since its very beginning, which remains very present today, and which like all realities handled by humans, can be either the best or the worst thing. Of course, very often, religion has led to violence, intolerance, exclusions, wars. But it has also led to the very opposite, that is to say that among the most beautiful things that exist today, those which were born under the wake of the Great Religions – and notably the Great monotheistic Religions – are among the most beautiful. It is true, of course, for art, it is true for architecture, it is also true for realisations, because if we could sum up all the good that has been done or that was inspired by a religion in the world since it exists, we would see that this sum would infinitely win over the sum of the wrong things – albeit huge – that have been done in the name of religion, which are to me deviations. And yet naturally, I remember the subject of the Philosophy exam I was lucky to get during the Bac, ‘is the idea of God necessary for moral action’ – it is a question that can follow you for the rest of your life. I naturally answered no, because there are obviously many people, who are extraordinary, who have demanding ethics and admirable practices without a religious reference. These two concepts are in no way contradictory in my eyes. Most of the oppositions according to which we think, are in reality only apparent oppositions, which, if we take the time to think about them, are made to be unified through a superior interpretation.
Which of your country's cultural specificities are you the proudest of?
I think I would say that it’s universality. I think that a certain idea of France, and if you go to an office where references to the General de Gaulle are very present, what he has incarnated, among other things throughout our history, can be placed under the symbol of our capacity and of our duty towards universality. France can be counted among those very few countries in the world that have this reference to universality. It isn’t for nothing that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which we are celebrating this year the 70th anniversary, was inspired by a French man, René Cassin, who worked alongside Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wife. It was, shortly after the biggest worldwide conflict known to this day, a retake, at a global scale, of the idea of human rights, which is undeniably an idea in which France has been extremely present from the start with the movement of the Lumières and the French Revolution. The aspiration and capacity to universality also comes with our language, as French is as of today one of the most spoken languages in the world, as we share it with hundreds of millions of other inhabitants of the world. Africa, of course, but not only, a little bit in every country of the world. And this aptitude to universality is also marked by the fact that France owes itself to be a safe haven – it’s not even that is has to, it’s that it is a safe haven. When you look at the identity of France, you can see that France is an alluvial country, which has never ceased to enrich itself, throughout the centuries, of the human alluvium coming from other territories. This remains true today. It doesn’t mean that we must be a strainer and welcome anyone, in any way, at any time, because there also is the question of the country’s capacity to live with these welcomings. But for me, one of the most beautiful symbols of this vocation of France, which is universality, is for example the day when a Chinese, arriving in France in the 1950s, accompanying his diplomat father, dissenter of Mao Zedong, ends up being elected at the French Academy and inheriting of the French Academy from a progeny of St Louis. This is the day that the French Academy elects, instead of Jacques de Bourbon-Busset, François Cheng, one of our greatest writers, poets, novelists and essayists, who writes in crystalline French prose, with all the subtlety of the Chinese of which he has left. That is a symbol of the universality of France.
If you could do any job regardless of money, what would it be?
Monk. Because monks – I have an absolute fascination for monastic life – have the chance, departing from a rule that can be different according to the order to which they belong, to live under the aegis of equilibrium and harmony. You can by the way see it on their faces: monks from around the world, Buddhist monks, Christian monks, anything you like, incarnate a sort of human greatness, because, as we say, ‘it isn’t us who handle the rules, it is the rules that handle us’ – and monastic rules, whatever they might be, make place for the three human basic needs, which are manual labour, rooted in reality, intellectual labour, and spiritual labour, which is prayer or meditation. And if you look at monks, they are generally quite perfect, or in any way, more radiant than most of us.
If you had to explain our planet to an alien, what would you say?
I would say ‘come and let’s go for a stroll together’, because it’s impossible to describe this planet. We could describe it like Paul Eluard, ‘Earth is blue like an orange’, we could describe it like the cosmonaut who looks at it from a capsule, we could describe it like a navigator alone in the middle of the ocean. I’ve been lucky enough to know people who, alone on a small boat – I’m thinking here of d’Aboville – have crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, which are extreme experiences that provide a certain capacity to describe the planet. But we could also describe the planet from the point of view of the peasant, the winegrower, or the forester, who aren’t the least interesting because they are the most universal – or the shepherd, or those who practice agriculture in mountains. But I think the best is to take a trip around together, and to see the alien’s gaze, and converse with them, because I think that a real description of such a complex object as our planet can only come in the form of a dialogue, a little like your film.
And you, which question would you like to ask the world?
Do you really think that we will be able to achieve, together, what each and every one of us aspire to, that is to make sure that the world gets better, and rediscover, or find, a meaning which corresponds to what Paul Valéry called ‘the global village’?