Quebec: Lost for words

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LONDON — Like being on holiday when your house is broken into, watching politics unfold in my home town of Montreal and across the province of Quebec is unhealthy.  You imagine things that aren’t true.  You worry about what might have happened, and hold out hope in vain for things that might not.

Then the reality is both better and worse than you imagined.  But in different ways.

I don’t know what the reality is.  Being 5 timezones away and not yet in touch with many friends and relatives, I am ‘still on holiday’.

Let me back up and then quickly make the connection to words and organisations.

Early Wednesday morning in Montreal as a new Quebec premiere was congratulating herself on a victory in that day’s polls, a man entered the back of the hall and started shooting people.  So far one man has died.

As you may know, Quebec is a French-speaking province.  There are also many people living there who do not have French as a mother-tongue.

For more than two hundred years, at various levels of intensity there have been discussions about roles and laws that would favour one or the other.

Any concept of the original players, the British settlers and the French migrants, has been lost since pretty much when the discussions began.  But the shallow clichés remain.

I worked on laws and all of this stuff in the 1990s.  I promoted cooperation, understanding, oh, and worked on two referendums on Quebec’s self-determination.

For someone who loves words and language it was a very painful time.  Because we ran out of words.

Everything became too loaded, the past was too heavy to carry.  The future wasn’t part of the discussion.

Today in Quebec, people are looking for language.  I should say they are looking for new words.  Words that haven’t lost their meaning. Words that can take us forward.  And that’s hard.



And there is one…

Is that the past can haunt you. You can run your business based on old ‘rights’ and habits. But it’s not healthy.

Factions can get entrenched. Business might seem to continue, but people will stop talking. People will get away with saying ‘them’ and ‘us’.

You can highlight differences. We’ve all got them. And the smoking hut and water cooler are full of people who want to talk about bad things: unfairness, competition, favouritism…

Language can fail you.  You can find that nothing is acceptable to say.  No view is allowed to be acceptable.  “We tried that.”  “You would say that.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Looking forward.  Finding a positive approach.  Working together.  Showing leadership.  Saying what you mean and meaning it.

Words are not the problem.  A sense of direction and greater cooperation are what is needed.


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One Response

  1. Tracey

    I am just loving the tone of your writing– the economical potency, the succinct bare truth. Stark, fierce and yet not fearsome, with a measure of warmth. Wonderful work.

    I too lived in Quebec, in Montreal, for 15 years, as an anglophone. I am also working in change management and communications, though now in Toronto. I completed my Master’s of Human Systems Intervention at Concordia University.

    I am admiring Able & How, your brand, your work, your ways, from Canada. I work independently and am in the process of finding my brand and voice in this complex, exhilarating work.

    Thank you for providing a blazing flash of possibility– I recognize my aspirations when I read your site and twitter feed.


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