Them-versus-us at the library
Our letters to the editor commenting on language of service at Aylmer’s Lucie-Faris library are the latest in the old debate over language rights and responsibilities. Complaints often concern public servants who can’t or who refuse to use a non-official language (English) – when speaking to a taxpayer who, despite years of living within Quebec, has not mastered the official language (French), even rudimentarily.
It is remarkable how similar is each iteration of this debate: “how can the official who lives and works within a society dominated by English use not be able to use that language, even in a basic way”; and “how can someone who has lived in Quebec – for decades – have not learned even the simplest of French”. The implications in these letters are that each party is refusing (out of spite) to use the other’s language; and that each aggrieved person is insulted by the other’s thoughtlessness.
That seems pretty clear – and tedious. It is tedious to hear these arguments repeated so often by those on both sides who seem to have never noticed such complaints before. It’s difficult to believe anyone who claims not to know that Quebec has only one official language – but that this applies only to Quebec’s government services and agencies. Likewise for Canada, our federal government is committed to providing bilingual services, but only for government services.
The most remarkable point – and the paragraphs above only scratch the surface – is how quickly these complaints about a personal difficulty get translated into group-think. We quickly go from a personal problem to the grand old “them versus us”. Suddenly “everyone” is insulted or everyone is shown disrespect or made to feel unwelcome in our city.
In not a single case is “everyone” ever attacked, insulted, or ignored. These situations are always personal.
We assume that because we feel hard done by, everyone must be hard done by. If an anglophone is denied service, all anglophones are denied a service; if a francophone is denied or shunned, that’s an insult to all francophones.
Yes, maybe all anglos or francos are indeed insulted. But the point is, how is expanding the scope and the tension like this helpful in any way?
The opposite seems true: by raising the ante, bringing in thousands of people to what was a personal affront or difficulty, the situation becomes more difficult to repair, not easier. As soon as “everyone” is harmed, there is no workable solution. It becomes a “confrontation of cultures”.
And language is only one example of conflating into “them versus us”. The niqab and Syrian refugee questions have been the same. It’s got to be “them” doing something dishonourable to “us”.
This is so counter-productive. These “them versus us” accusation are in fact us being dishonourable and disrespectful to ourselves. Aren’t we smart and big-hearted enough to solve every one of these single issues? But we won’t if we refuse to solve them -- by jumping into a “them vs us” conflation.