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Conditioning; The importance of gestures (#277)

In the last post, I discussed how “conditioning” can affect our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche – and more importantly, how, in a broad sense, it is not necessarily a bad thing.   In fact, in Canada’s unique context, owing to vast distances and numerous regional differences, “cultural conditioning” (ie: laying the foundations of cultural “expectations” with respect to how Canadian citizens interact with each other) strengthens to our national cohesiveness.

I ended the last post by saying that negative consequences can arise from conditioning if our upbringing has led us to be conditioned (ie: led to expect, or believe) that Canada’s reality is one thing, when in truth it is another — OR if we are only aware of part of the overall picture.

A word to Anglophones on the negative consequences which can arise from an incomplete picture arising from certain sets of conditioning

In an Anglophone Canadian context, such negative consequences arise when Anglophones think of their country only in an Anglophone context.  This often leads to charges from Francophones that they are being ignored, misunderstood, or not accounted for in the overall context.   It goes without saying that such conditioning is not the best for national “cohesiveness”.

If you are Anglophone and if you have been following this blog for the last year, you are undoubtedly aware that many of my blog topics cover matters which many people are unaware of.  This is because many Anglophone Canadians (primarily unilingual Anglophone Canadians) have been conditioned (either by way of geographic regionalism / isolation, school, or silence in the media) into not realizing that there is a need to look beyond Anglophone culture to be able to view and understand Canada in its entirety.

It is an unfortunate reality, because frankly speaking, this “is” one the major reasons why Québec’s sovereignty movement exists.

Some of the things unilingual Anglophone Canadians may not be aware of (including unilingual individuals in Canada’s Anglophone media, political and education systems) – but which exacerbate the notion of Two Solitudes — have to do with

  • understanding Québec’s and Canada’s Francophone culture,
  • who is talking about what issues withing French Canada and Québec,
  • how those people’s views are valued and weighted within Québec’s and Canada’s Francophone society,
  • what Québec’s primary societal values are and what weight is accorded to those values,
  • what discussions may be different in Québec than in English Canada,
  • what actions in the rest of Canada can lead to Québec’s collective sense of alienation from the rest of Canada, and finally,
  • what simple things can be done in the rest of Canada to make Francophone Québécois feel more valued, better understood and a more complete part of Canadian society — just as an Anglophone would feel in any part of Anglophone Canada.

I have always said that we need to avoid a situation in which Anglophone Canadians feel perfectly at home and emotionally understood in 80% of their country, but in which Francophones can feel perfectly at home and emotionally understood in only 20% of their country.  I truly do not believe we are at this stage (yet)… but many people in Québec have been conditioned to believe we are at this stage.   Once someone is conditioned into holding preconceived notions with respect to a particular idea, then that person tends to look for signs that the preconceived notions are true; a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

I can give you a perfect example of this latter statement.   I have a Francophone friend (originally from Québec) who lives in a small town in Ontario.  He feels that he has been mistreated by a few Anglophones owing to a cultural misunderstanding.  Ever since then, I get the impression he has been “actively” on the lookout for repeated patterns owing to this prior and unfortunate conditioning.   Invariably, any time I talk to him, he always seems to have found a new story of “mistreatment at the hands of Anglophones” to tell me about — despite the fact that I think he is finding issues where issues do not exist.  I’ve been repeatedly pointing out to him that I see other people around him — especially Anglophones — who are experiencing the same things that he is in this smaller community.  I’ve been trying to point out that it is not a Francophone/Anglophone issue, and he just ran into a few bad apples.  But owing to the conditioning stemming from these few experiences, I’m having a tough time getting this point through to him.  His conditioning, owing to these few experiences, has tainted his view and now he believes the issues are deliberate, targeted against him as a Francophone, and it has made him quite unhappy.

Likewise, I have a good Anglophone friend in Montréal who I have known for almost 15 years.  He moved to Montréal four years ago from another part of Canada, before which he immigrated to Canada several years back.  During his first two years in Montréal, he worked in a hostile work environment.   It is important to make the distinction that work environment was Francophone and hostile — not hostile because is was Francophone.  My friend was hired into an English-only high-technology position for which the company could not find Francophones to fill the position    Yet, because my friend was new to Montréal, and because he did not speak French, he was came to the conclusion that he was being harassed because he could not speak English.  As someone looking from the outside in, I could see that he worked in such a toxic workplace that he would have been harassed regardless if he was Francophone or Anglophone.  But his experiences conditioned him into believing the harassment was owing to the fact that he was Anglophone.  His conditioning led him to become so bitter that he refused to learn French out of pure spite.  Needless to say, it is not the most pleasant experience to visit him in Montréal, and I’m actually at the point of urging him to leave Montréal (and Québec) — not only for his own sanity, but for the sanity of those around him (I can see that Francophones around him are now incorrectly holding him up as an incorrect example of what Anglophones are like… It’s just not a good situation all around.  I’m actually surprised to see how it spiraled out of control).

I find it very interesting how both of the two friends above (one Francophone, one Anglophone) believe they are being mistreated at the “hands of the other linguistic group”.  Yet, from the outside looking in, I can see that it is not the case and that these two friends have simply become overly sensitive.   I would love to bring them together to share their experiences and compare notes — precisely so they could see that their emotions are skewing reality (and I might some day).  However, their “conditioning”, which is based on traumatic events, has led them to actively search for reasons to believe that everyone in a particular language group has it out for them.  So they can see that their view of reality is incomplete and skewed, I’m trying to get them both involved in their communities more — to do volunteer work, to join a sports team, or to find a club of people with similar interests.  But it is an uphill battle… especially when emotions are running high.  This is a very poignant example of negative conditioning.

Like I said earlier, once someone is conditioned into holding preconceived notions with respect to a particular idea, then that person tends to look for signs that the preconceived notions are true.   The sovereignty movement would not exist if a critical mass of people did not have these types of conditioned sentiments, regardless if I or you believe such sentiments are baseless or not.  You can argue facts, but it is impossible to argue emotions.  Thus it is impossible to tell someone their emotions are “wrong”.

That is why gestures are so important.   Gestures and overtures are what influence emotions.

A word to Francophones on the negative consequences which arise from an incomplete picture arising from certain sets of conditioning

This leads me to the next point…

Likewise, in a Francophone Québec context, negative consequences can arise when conditioning prevents Francophones from being aware of the realities, context, changes, evolution and nuances of what is happening elsewhere in Canada.   This often results in many Québécois unnecessarily (and often unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally) erecting emotional walls between themselves and the rest of Canada.

It is unfortunate when this occurs, because it can often be based on inaccurate pretexts and preconceptions (false “conditioning”).  It leads to a sense of being more and more detached from the rest of Canada.  The problem is that this sense of isolation is as much to do with (or even more to do with) Québec’s own “wall building” as it is with any unilingual Canadian’s disconnect from Francophone culture.

This blog is primarily for Anglophone Canadians.   But I am told that more and more Francophones have been reading it over the last several months.  If you are Francophone, and you have been following this blog over the past year, you perhaps have become aware of various things about the rest of Canada you were not aware of (things not mentioned in school, in Francophone media, and certainly not by politicians and interest groups interested who seek to score political points by way of playing the nationalist card).

Perhaps some of the things you have probably learned are that there are quite vibrant underpinnings of Francophone society outside Québec and across Canada.  They are vibrant because they continue to evolve and adapt to a changing world.   Francophone society across Canada is increasingly shifting to the online digital world (making it so that a Francophone’s community is available at the touch of a button in any village, town or city across Canada).

Francophone society across Canada is indeed seeing proportional challenges arising from increased Anglophone immigration, but Francophones have been adapting.  In many cases, Francophone immigration is breathing new life into areas where Francophone society was struggling only 20 years ago (Southern Alberta and the Edmonton area are prime examples of regions where Francophone communities have grown by large numbers over the past 15 years owing to international and inter-provincial immigration).

You perhaps have learned from this blog that Francophone society in other regions of Canada comes in many different sizes, colours, and accents – different from one province to another.  You have read how Francophones are working with their local governments (provincial and municipal) to build infrastructure and greater service networks within their communities and across the country (including schools, universities, health and other government services).

One of the more poignant things you perhaps have learned from this blog is the tremendous change in openness which is occurring on the part of millions of Anglophones towards Canada’s French fact.   I have been citing many of my own observations, experiences, as well as many statistics on this topic.  One such example is Canada’s immersion program — a truly ground-breaking program by any global measure.   Other countries are now looking at Anglophone Canada’s grass-roots immersion movement which is transforming a nation.   In absolute numbers, bilingualism is on the uptick and it is “sensitizing” politicians, governments, and the Canadian population as a whole.   Changes are being made across the country.  Courts are recognizing these changes and are providing extra “nudges” in areas where there has been some “slacking off”.   If “conditioning” were to come in the form of a reset button, it is an understatement to say that more than a few Anglophones have pressed it in the past two decades.

In the next post we will look at the “modern” historical context which has shaped much of our current conditioning.


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)

“Conditioning”: and its affect on our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche (#276)

In the last post we looked at what conditioning is, and how it can affect how people relate to one another in various contexts.

In this post, we’ll look at how conditioning plays a role in Canada’s own national and cultural story.

Human conditioning affects how we view the world and others around us.  In the case of the Two Solitudes, if affects how we relate to our own country, and view our country.   It can have the unfortunate effect of giving us (Anglophones or Francophones) only part of the picture – an incomplete picture.  It often results in us making decisions with respect to our societal interactions which do not necessarily take our entire national context into consideration.

Breaking the cycle of the negative side of conditioning is extremely difficult, but very necessary if we’re going to break the cycle of the Two Solitudes.  I do not believe anyone holds any expectations that the wall which forms the Two Solitudes can simply crumble with one big strike of a hammer.  However, breaking it down – little-by-little, one brick at time – is possible, and it is happening on many fronts.

There are signs we have been moving in this direction for quite some time (with Canada’s immersion programs, readily available information from the internet age, various provincial government initiatives across Canada, and others).  But there is still a very long way to go.

Media and pop-culture platforms as major factors of personal conditioning

Due to the vast geographic nature of Canada, it would be unrealistic for most Canadians to break the constraints of conditioning through physical exposure alone.

One cannot expect an Anglophone mother from Yellowknife (NWT) to spent three months in Victoriaville, Québec to learn about certain pillars of Francophone culture.

One cannot expect a Francophone high school graduate from Rivière-du-Loup (Qc), who is about to enter a very intense university program in journalism, to spend three months in Saskatoon to learn about pillars of Anglophone culture.

That’s not to say these things couldn’t happen, but reality and statistics simply tell us that in the vast majority of cases, such physical exchanges do not occur.   The country is just too big, personal finances are always a factor, and everyone has their own lives to worry about (let alone having to worry about a different linguistic group’s cultural tid-bits, especially when the nuances can take a lifetime of exposure to fully understand).

Thus, in a country like Canada, media and pop-culture platforms become our major (and often only) possibilities to break the cycle of unilingual cultural conditioning.  Therefore, media and pop-culture platforms are most Canadian’s only major tool with which to begin to tear down the Two Solitudes.

Owing to the sheer size of Canada, for Anglophones, it is our media and pop-culture platforms which more-often-than-not give a sense of “one-country” and of a united “Anglophone Canadian culture”.   The following are some very simple examples.

Without media or pop-culture platforms:

  • a person from Quesnel, BC would have never known Shania Twain (from Timmins, ON) or any other such singer which promotes our Canadian styles of country music.
  • those with an interest in Canadian history in Cornerbrook (NL), or Thunder Bay (ON) may have never known the late Pierre Burton (who regularly appeared on television) and how he taught two generations of Canadians about our nation-building history.
  • a whole generation of children across the country would not have known The Friendly Giant, Pokadot Door, or Mr. Dress-up (which remains a bonding point of reference of a 20 year spread of Canadians who are now in their late 20s to late 40s).  On this point, I can remember children’s programs I used to watch in BC and Alberta which were often filmed around the unique “Toronto-styled” brick-faced “corner stores” (the type with all the flowers sold outside the doorstep in older Toronto neighbourhoods).  Thus, even though I had never set foot in Toronto until I was 20, in my mind these corner stores were already a familiar part of “my” culture, even before I ever first saw my first “Toronto-style” corner store in person.
  • people from coast to coast would not have known David Suzuki, issues he champions, and matters he has brought to the fore through his television programs and radio appearances over the past 40 years (all of which have helped to shape our collective psyche on the environmental front).

I could write a book of such examples.  Little-by-little all of these have added to a sense of our collective national psyche… to a sense of Anglophone Canadians being able to share the same experiences and reference points — be it with our neighbour, our employer, our politicians, or our compatriots on the other end of the country.

Just the other day here in Toronto, I (from Alberta) had a conversation with my secretary (from Nova Scotia), and an acquaintance from Toronto.  The conversation made numerous references to things we used to do as kids – and much of it had to do with points of reference we all experienced from shows we saw on television, songs we used to sing as kids, or other matters conveyed to us as kids through Canadian media.   The experiences we were referring to were uniquely Canadian, and involved having acted out, as children, things we saw on Canadian children’s programs.  Here we were, from three different parts of the country (West, Central, and East), a distance spanning more than 5000 kms – but yet our Anglophone childhood experiences were the same, filled with uniquely Anglophone Canadian reference points, owing to shared cultural experiences stemming from Canadian television programs we watched as kids.

This is a perfect example of just how powerful media and pop-culture platforms are with respect to forging national identity.  But even more important is that we all had the pre-conceived expectations that all of us would have these share experiences, even if we had not spoken about them.  The expectation component is called conditioning.

As you can see, conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing.   It’s all about expectations – and those expectations can be very important (and powerful) when we hold the expectation that our compatriots can (and will) be able to culturally relate to us.

In the above example, the three of us were “conditioned” to believe we would share certain childhood experiences (even if we had not spoken about them) by virtue of simply haven grown up in Canada (in an Anglophone Canadian settings).  We were “conditioned” to believe that those experiences had played a role in shaping our lives – from coast to coast, and that they remain major factors in our collective Canadian experience… pieces of what makes us culturally Canadian.  And thus it was natural and logical that we would have a conversation about many of the little things we had in common as children, despite 5000 kilometres of separation in three different provinces.

As an aside, you might ask how immigrants can fit into this shared Canadian experience — after all, more recent immigrants may not have these same shared Canadian experiences.  Does it make them any less “Canadian”?.  That is a legitimate and very good question to ask.   It comprises a whole other topic, but I can briefly say this:  Immigrants tend to first adapt to a Canadian value set before they will (or are able to) adapt more intricate and time-based shared cultural references.  However, with respect to “shared cultural experiences” immigrants “pick-up from where they jump in”.

This means that even if they may not share cultural reference points from the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, they will nonetheless begin to share in cultural reference points occurring from the moment they land in Canada, and they will build on those shared experiences, little-by-little from that point on.

They therefore move forward with all the rest of us (just as earlier generations of immigrants have – be it German, Irish, or Ukrainian migrants 80-100 years ago, Italian and Greek immigrants 50-60 years ago, Vietmanese immigrants 35 years ago, or Hong Kong immigrants 20 to 30 years ago).   Over time, everyone eventually shares the same experiences and cultural reference points, and the country continues to culturally build upon itself.

The next post

Three paragraphs above, I mentioned that conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing.

But it can have negative consequences in Canada’s national context if it gives Canadian the expectation they are culturally all from the same cloth without taking Canada’s bilingual/bi-cultural context into account (and I say this notwithstanding Canada’s multicultural nuances — but it is not necessarily to discuss multiculturalism in this context because the expectation is that multicultural communities very much operate within Canada’s two Anglophone and Francophone dominant spheres).

Just as conditioning can form a sense of collective cohesiveness through the expectation that we have shared cultural experiences, conditioning can also cause major problems in national cohesiveness if it only provides one half of Canada’s entire cultural picture.

If our conditioning gives Anglophones culturally shared experiences from only an Anglo-dominant sphere, or if conditioning gives Francophones culturally shared experiences from only a Franco-dominant sphere, problems then arise when both groups, as a consequence, begin to culturally diverge.   Because each linguistic group may not know what is being experienced in each other’s respective cultural spheres, a chasm results.  We call this chasm the Two Solitudes.

In the next post, we will look at simplified examples of how “incomplete national conditioning” (and perhaps “incorrect national conditioning”) can result in reinforcing the notion of the Two Solitudes.


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)

The annual “Rendez-vous de la Francophonie”, coming to a city near you (#139)

This is an event I would encourage Anglophone Canadians, all across Canada, to consider marking on their calendar.  Le Rendez-vous de la francophonie (currently in its 17th year) is an event which brings “our” (all of ours, Francophones & Anglophones alike) unique Francophone culture to the forefront.

Events are held across Canada for a short period of time in a festival-of-sorts atmosphere.

I would classify this event more than just an arts & cultural event – but rather a distinct moment in the calendar year to simply reconnect, or even forge new connections with an aspect of our common heritage which makes Canada the place it is today (I’d say that’s a pretty good reason to mark “Le Rendez-vous” on your calendar and to set aside an hour or two to check it out) 🙂 .

There will be 1,800 pan-Canadian activities, which include various events and National Film Board film screenings (1,800 events… that’s quite an undertaking!). Whether you attend any of the events by yourself, with friends or with family – I guarantee you’ll go home with a feeling of being a bit better connected to what makes us Canadian

This is a completely inclusive event for all Canadians, and it recognizes that you don’t have to be Francophone to have a feeling of ownership and participation in Canada’s Francophone fabric.  So even if you don’t speak French, don’t be at all afraid to check this out. You will be more than welcome on equal footing along with everyone else (you’ll be surrounded by your own capatriots, after all).

The English version of the Rendez-vous’ website outlines events in your province and region.

The link is http:/rvf.ca/home.php.

Le Rendez-vous de la francophonie will run from March 6 to 22, 2015.

François Massicotte, a celebrity comedian, is one of the co-spokespersons of this years’ Rendez-vous and will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

Bonnes festivités!

Boxing Day and Boxing Week in Québec versus the rest of Canada (#130)

Happy Boxing Week!  This week is Boxing week across Canada, with yesterday (Boxing Day) as the huge kick-off.

I’ll let you know about some differences between how Boxing Day and Boxing Week unfolds in Québec versus the rest of Canada.

For readers from the US and elsewhere, Boxing Day and Boxing Week are kind of the equivalent of Black Friday in the US.  Black Friday just started taking place in Canada in the last few years, but it is not nearly the size of event that it is in the US.  Canadian Black Friday may see some sales on some items, but the sales in Canada are not as deep as the sales in the US (perhaps Canadian sales are 15% on average and only on select items).   However, Canada has always had “Boxing Day”, which is the big sales day with items marked down anywhere from 20% to 80%, averaging around 40% to 60% mark-downs.  It is always held on December 26th.  Because it is the day after Christmas, people in Canada often receive money for Christmas, in lieu of gifts, with the expectation that they’ll hit the malls and stores the next day to get what they really want, at a huge discount.

What’s relatively new about Boxing Day is that it’s being extended more and more to cover the whole week after Christmas – now known as “Boxing Week”, with “Boxing Week sales”.  The big kick-off day continues to be December 26th (when the biggest sales can be found), but sales continue throughout the week.

Yesterday I hit the malls in Edmonton with friends to take a look at how things were shaping up (and to spend some of my Christmas money).  Man were the malls packed!!  Shoulder-to-shoulder, wall-to-wall people (in French we say the malls were noir du monde, which means the same thing).   The news reported that at any given moment yesterday, in West Edmonton Mall, there were 150,000 to 170,000 people! (West Edmonton Mall is North America’s largest shopping mall – and it took me 45 minutes just to find a parking spot).

wem1

Both levels of West Edmonton Mall jammed pack with people… you can seem them all in the background.

wem2

More people…

wem3

… and more and more people!

I’ve done Boxing Week shopping in Québec before (I used to live in Gatineau, Québec when I worked for the  government way back when).   But I have never seen these sorts of crowds in Québec shopping malls on Boxing Day as what exists elsewhere in Canada (but cross the river into Ottawa or elsewhere in Ontario or New Brunswick – and look out!  The shopping crowds will run you down).   I do remember once, many years ago, watching a morning news program from Montréal on December 26th, interviewing line-ups of people outside of Best Buy at 6am just prior to the store opening, and then watching the stampede charge in a few minutes later.  But I’ve never quite seen the same thing on the Québec news ever since.   The Boxing Day and Boxing Week madness seems much more to be an Anglophone Canada thing (although the sales do exist in Québec too).

Yesterday, the Canadian Press (La Presse canadienne) came out with an article pretty much saying the same thing.   The article can be read by clicking here:  Le «Boxing Day» est nettement moins populaire au Québec qu’ailleurs au Canada.

In the article, they basically say that only 12% of Québécois plan to take advantage of Boxing Day sales, likely owing to the fact that people in Québec tend to plan their shopping a little bit more in advance (ie: Québécois are less impulsive in their shopping habits).

Something else worth noting in the same vein… in other places in Canada, Boxing Day shopping kicks off at 7am, 8am, 9am, or 10am, depending on the province and provincial holiday regulations.  But in Québec, stores didn’t open until 1pm on Boxing Day (hmmm… that could take a bit of bite out of the day).

Regardless, in the week run-up to New Years, I wish everyone a happy Boxing Week, and hopefully you find the deals you’re looking for!