There has not been a civilization, cosmogony, mythology, religion, monotheist or not, that is not based, in one way or another, on a story of sacrifice. This sacrifice is often related to either the life of the main hero, his children or one of his relatives; though perfectly identifiable, the story could also be of a more metaphorical sacrifice.
Very often, the ethics and the hierarchy of the powers in the newly founded society are organized around this sacrifice. It is also around it that prohibited acts and taboos are built. One could thus read many sacred books about the good in many religions.
The history of men, too, similar to that of the Gods, is abound of stories of sacrifices of all kinds—a mother who sacrifices herself for her child, a soldier for his homeland, a martyr for his faith, a lifeguard for someone drowning, and so many other cases.
And the totality of the arts, from music to cinema, and literature to painting, account for these sacrifices, and even make it their essential subject in order to glorify it, console us, and take us back to the essential: our civilizations exist only through a founding act of sacrifice. And without the altruism it embodies, we would be nothing.
These sacrifices are therefore essential to the human condition. They remind us, wherever we may be, in time and space, that we are not intrinsically selfish animals. But that, on the contrary, when we find our purpose, we are all fundamentally altruistic beings, ready to give what is most important to us, for the happiness of others.
This heredity probably also explains our intrinsic melancholy: we know that it is only through sacrifice that we can fully attain and discover who we are.
However, these sacrifices are never disguised as types of suicide. He who sacrifices himself always loves life. And he is sorry to have to leave it behind. He does not wait for a reward for his act in the hereafter. And there is precisely sacrifice because he abandons voluntarily something that he is dearly attached to: life. Moreover, his act gives a universal, ethical and eternal meaning to his death.
Therefore, we must never confuse the act of the one who protects by sacrificing himself with the act of the one who kills by committing suicide.
Also, these sacrifices are all the more significant when they are accomplished by facing suicidal murderers whose acts constitute the very negation of the sacrifice. We have seen this recently on American campuses or in ordinary places of European everyday life.
If sacrifice is the most extreme form of altruism, there are other types of sacrifices that are within the reach of each of us. And it constitutes the cornerstone of our human duty.
And the sacrifice of a French high-ranking officer, in the elegance of his duty, unfazed by a lack of hope, sends us back to our own duty and our own necessary sacrifices, infinitely lighter, for the survival of future generations.
It reminds us that each of us, in our own setting, if we do not have to die for our children, as long as the circumstances do not require it, we have the duty to at least not kill them by our indifference, and to not deny the children their right to happiness by wasting ours.
Remember that altruism is the highest form of selfishness because it gives meaning to life, death and our legacy.